Skip to main content

Sham Email Subpoena Violates Whistleblower's Constitutional Rights

PRESS RELEASE
March 31, 2010
Federal Appeals Court Should Reexamine Ruling Threatening Email Privacy

Atlanta - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and attorney Bryan Vroon asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit today to reexamine a panel ruling that violated a whistleblower's Fourth Amendment right to privacy in his email communications.

The whistleblower, Charles Rehberg, uncovered systematic mismanagement of funds at a Georgia public hospital. He alerted local politicians and others to the issue through a series of faxes. A local prosecutor in Dougherty County, Ken Hodges, conspired with the hospital and used a sham grand jury subpoena to obtain Mr. Rehberg's personal email communications. The prosecutor then provided that information to private investigators for the hospital and indicted Mr. Rehberg for a burglary and assault that never actually occurred. All the criminal charges against Mr. Rehberg were eventually dismissed. Hodges is currently running for Attorney General of Georgia in the Democratic primary.

Mr. Rehberg filed a civil suit against the prosecutors and their investigator for their misconduct, but the appeals court erroneously ruled that he did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his private email.

"Mr. Rehberg did the right thing and blew the whistle on financial mismanagement," said EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. "In response, he was persecuted by local authorities and his constitutional rights were violated. It's well established that individuals have a right to privacy in the content of their communications, electronic or otherwise. We're asking the court to look at this again and follow the law."

Also at issue in EFF's request for rehearing is the panel's decision to give immunity to county prosecutors and their investigators for manipulating and fabricating "evidence" and defaming Mr. Rehberg as a felon in comments to the press.

"The Supreme Court has ruled that prosecutors are not entitled to immunity when they fabricate evidence during the course of an investigation, knowingly defame an innocent man as a felon to the press, or collude with private parties to retaliate against a critic, as they did here," said Mr. Vroon, who has represented Mr. Rehberg since the beginning of his lawsuit. "This case involves a gross misuse of power which damaged an innocent man who never committed a burglary or assault on anyone."

For the full brief:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/rehberg_v_hodges/rehbergmotion.pdf

For more on this case:
http://www.eff.org/cases/rehberg-v-hodges

Contacts:

Jennifer Granick
Civil Liberties Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
jennifer@eff.org

Bryan A. Vroon
Attorney
Law Offices of Bryan A. Vroon, LLC
bvroon@vclawfirm.com

JavaScript license information