Former Assistant Broward Public Defender Ruby Green is suing her former employer, accusing him of violating her First Amendment rights by firing her by e-mail the day after she lost the primary election to replace him.
Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, who did not run for re-election, accused Green of making “inappropriate, unprofessional and dishonest comments” about the office and “its commitment to the underserved and people of color.”
In a late August letter warning of Green’s intent to sue, her attorney, Patrick Frank of Tallahassee, said Green’s comments during the campaign were protected under federal law and her firing was unjustified.
“The First Amendment” grants Green “the right to speak out on matters of public concern an/or importance without the fear of being subject to retaliatory acts by her employer,” he said.
During the campaign, Green spoke on a local podcast about her campaign for Public Defender and criticized what she called the office’s shortcomings.
"We need change at the Broward County Public Defender’s Office because a Black face in a high place doesn’t always want to advance the race,” she said. The statement was seen as a swipe against her competitor for the position, Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes, who won the primary. Both Green and Weekes are Black.
Green also accused Finkelstein of prohibiting his employees from marching in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Finkelstein accused Green of misrepresenting his position, which opposed gathering in a large group to demonstrate during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Green’s lawyers offered to avoid a lawsuit if the Public Defender’s Office agreed to allow her and her daughter to remain on the office’s health insurance plan for one year and pay her $300,000, among other conditions.
The federal lawsuit was filed earlier this week after Finkelstein’s office declined Green’s demands.
When Green was fired, Finkelstein said it was his decision, not Weekes'.
Weekes said Thursday that Green was also fired over conflicts of interest she refused to avoid as she rose in the ranks of the Broward Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. She was elected president earlier this year but stepped down after she took a job with the Broward State Attorney’s Office, the county’s prosecutors.
The defense lawyers' group had been approached in mid-2018 about intervening in a dispute between the Public Defender’s Office and Michael Brannon, a forensic psychologist whose expertise has been a courthouse staple for years. Brannon and Finkelstein feuded publicly for years, culminating in a lawsuit that Finkelstein’s office ultimately won.
Finkelstein stripped Green of administrative duties after the episode, questioning her divided loyalties. Her salary was not decreased.
The lawsuit, which seeks back pay and reinstatement, does not mention Green’s new job.
©2020 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.