PRAIRIE GROVE, Ark. — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arkansas has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a Prairie Grove state attorney who says his state contract was terminated after emailing his local representative voicing concerns about a recently passed bill that bans gender confirming treatments or surgery for transgender youth in the state.
According to a press release sent out by the ACLU of Arkansas, Casey Copeland, a contract attorney for the state court system, emailed his state representative, Rep. Charlie Fite, from his personal email account to express his opposition to House Bill 1570. Less than two days later, Copeland was notified that his contract with the state would be terminated.
The lawsuit filed claims that state officials violated Copeland's constitutional rights to free speech and due process and is asking the court to block the termination of his contract.
A federal district court in Arkansas granted a preliminary injunction Friday (Aug. 6) on behalf of Copeland, which reinstates his contract as a contract attorney for the state court system.
“Today’s decision reinforces that we must hold our state leaders accountable and fight together to protect our first amendment rights,” said Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas executive director. “State legislators may not like hearing from constituents who are unhappy with their actions, but they can’t use the power of the state to retaliate against people because they disagree with them on a certain issue.”
“I’m relieved the court reinstated my contract so I can get back to work protecting the rights, well-being, and opportunities of Arkansas foster children,” Copeland said. “A citizen's right to political speech is essential to our democracy and no one should be afraid of speaking their mind to their elected representative on issues that impact their friends, family, and state.”
“The right to petition our government is one of the core freedoms enshrined by the First Amendment – yet our client was retaliated against and his contract was terminated for exercising this fundamental right,” Dickson said. “As a citizen, Casey Copeland had every right to express his opposition to this harmful legislation and urge his representative to oppose it. But instead of respecting his First Amendment right to express his views on a matter of public concern, state officials cancelled his contract in a clear violation of his protected right to engage in political speech. This is one of the most clear cut and disturbing cases of unconstitutional government retaliation I’ve seen in Arkansas. State legislators may not like hearing from constituents who are unhappy with their actions, but they can’t use the power of the state to retaliate against people because they disagree with them on a certain issue.”
The ACLU of Arkansas says that Copeland had previously reached out as a constituent with his representative on other matters that did not lead to his contract termination.
“As a citizen, I felt I had an obligation to tell my state representative about the harm this bill would have. I never imagined that it would cost me part of my livelihood,” said Mr. Copeland. “I decided to bring a lawsuit to ensure that my rights and the rights of others are not abridged for the simple act of speaking their mind on an important matter of public concern as citizens of this state.”
The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU of Arkansas and cooperating attorneys Bettina E. Brownstein and Johnathan D. Horton. Defendants in the case are Marty Sullivan in his capacity as the director of the Arkansas Administrative Office of the Courts, and Stasia Burk McDonald, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts’ Dependency-Neglect Attorney Ad Litem Program.