By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY – Edward Lane, Alabama whistleblower who recently found himself a litigant the Supreme Court, is now thanking the Alabama Education Education for funding the legal battle, and condemning Attorney General Luther Strange for just “showing up” at the Supreme Court when the state has previously opposed Mr. Lane in proceedings through private law firms “for years.”
Lane’s case reached the Supreme Court after a long legal battle that began when he was fired from his position at Central Alabama Community College, where he oversaw a community youth outreach program. This occurred after Lane testified against former Alabama State Representative Suzanne Schmitz in her public corruption trial under subpoena; Schmitz had been receiving pay from the outreach program without performing any duties whatsoever, and her contract had been terminated by Lane.
The High Court, though, delivered Lane a mixed bag when it came out with its opnion earlier this summer.
The Court agreed that Lane – and therefore all Federal and State employees – have a First Amendment right to speak out against corruption in a public forum, even if it results from information they could only have gained through their job duties.
However, on a separate issue. the US Supreme Court sided against Lane and in favor of an argument AG Luther Strange espoused in his brief and oral argument, his first in the Court, that Lane is entitled to no monetary compensation for the loss of his job or any new job offer, as the law at the time was not “clearly established.”
In a recent, revealing Independence Day interview with Capitol Journal, Edward Lane first publicly thanked the Alabama Education Association at length, saying without them, there would be no Lane v. Franks, even at first expressing his initial hesitancy in accepting help from the group, a theme familiar throughout the state:
“I was very fortunate, blessed to get Mr. John Saxton, an attorney out of Birmingham as my attorney, which was provided through – I was an AEA member, I am currently an AEA member. Mr. Saxton, when I spoke to him, I told him point blank my concerns,” Lane said.
“I wanted somebody that was going to fight for me, because of my concern about whether his loyalty would be with me or with my previous employer, because in my mind there’s a lot of corruption in this state.”
Lane also pointed to how the implications of the Court’s split decision, which offered no monetary damages for a constitutional violation whose litigation lasted half a decade, as being negative for Alabama: blackmailing those with the ability and right to speak out about corruption the state with the security of their economic future:
“State employees still might feel hesitant to say something and speak out if they see corruption because while I was very blessed that I was able to sustain my family… It does give the knowledge to state and federal employees that if they want to speak up they can, but how many will be able to be without that income while they’re having to go to court and fight against some person who has aspired to a position that they feel like they can do this to you ? I was fortunate to have the attorney that the AEA provided for me, because if I would’ve had to pay for that attorney, I wouldn’t have been able to pay for it.”
Additionally, Lane says that Attorney General Strange, before arguing in favor of his First Amendment rights when the case reached the High Court, fought against him through a private law firm for “years,” possibly spending “thousands and thousands:”
“The state was paying a private law firm to fight against me during all of these years. I wonder how much that cost? They’ve paid thousands and thousands to a private law firm to fight in the case against me, and then Mr. Strange shows up in Washington at the Supreme Court from what I understand – this was his first time at the Supreme Court.”
Lane also explained that his job could be given back to him now, as an almost identical youth outreach program still exists, and that he is still pursuing legal avenues to achieve compensation:
“My job still exists… Why doesn’t it exist?” Lane asked.