Our Views: Overturn bad ethics law

We hope that Terry and Dr. Laura King prevail in their challenge to a state law that muzzles those who make complaints to the state Ethics Board. The law seems like a heavy-handed attempt to silence whistleblowers, and its constitutionality is certainly open to question. We’d like to see the law struck down in federal court, where the Kings recently filed suit seeking that result.

Laura King once worked for St. Tammany Parish Coroner Peter Galvan, but Galvan fired her in 2009. King claimed that she was fired for refusing to use a government grant for unapproved purposes, and she also complained about sexual harassment, racial prejudice and other wrongdoing within Galvan’s office. She expressed her grievances in a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a civil suit and a complaint about Galvan to the state Ethics Board.

After the Kings discussed their complaint to the Ethics Board with the media, they were charged with violating an obscure state law that prohibits those involved in an ethics complaint from discussing “a private investigation or private hearing of the Board of Ethics without the written request of the public servant or other person investigation.” The charges against the Kings were eventually dropped, but they still want the law overturned.

The apparent intent of the law is to help prevent public officials from being embarrassed or compromised by frivolous complaints to the ethics board.

But we believe the public is smart enough to sort through competing claims and counterclaims as ethics complaints work their way through the system. To make such informed judgments, citizens need an open, transparent process in which those bringing ethics complaints — and those defending against such complaints — have wide latitude to speak freely.

The present law, which favors those in authority at the expense of those who challenge authority, seems like an exercise in dictatorship, not democracy.

If the federal courts don’t act to overturn this law, we urge state lawmakers and the governor to change it, removing the restrictions against free speech.