First Amendment

Suit says disciplinary counsel was wrongly fired for pro-Trump tweets about Muslims

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A former disciplinary counsel in Tennessee says he was fired for the content of political tweets, rather than his conduct in the job.

In an April 5 lawsuit, Gerald Dean “Jerry” Morgan says he was fired in December 2020 after a suspended lawyer argued that Morgan’s tweets showed him to be a “proud anti-Muslim bigot.”

Morgan handled ethics appeals at the time, and he had never been accused of any favoritism, bias or ethical violation, according to the suit, filed in federal court in Nashville, Tennessee.

WTVF has coverage.

“My work for the board was exemplary,” Morgan told WTVF.

The suspended lawyer, Brian Manookian of Nashville, sought to disqualify Morgan in his case because of what Manookian thought to be “avowed anti-Muslim bigotry.” Manookian is married to a Muslim woman.

Manookian had included screenshots of Morgan’s alleged tweets. Morgan had praised former President Donald Trump for “talking big against Muslims,” had said Muslims fail to condemn Muslim terrorists, and had said, “Where’s the evidence that ‘Islam is a religion of peace’? They’ve gone to war against every society they’ve encountered for 1000s of years.”

WTVF also listed these tweets:

• Trump was “talking about the #1 issue of our time—stopping Muslims. Everybody better wake up!”

• “When someone kills an abortion provider … he is soundly condemned. By Christians. Muslims don’t do the same.”

• “Siding with Obama in a fight involving Muslims means you’re on the wrong side.”

Morgan said he handled ethics appeals and represented the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Responsibility in Manookian’s ethics appeal. He had no involvement at the hearing panel level.

Manookian had complained about tweets that Morgan posted during the presidential campaign in 2015 and 2016, when Morgan was not employed by the professional responsibility board or any other state agency, the suit says. A footnote in Manookian’s disqualification motion also referred to Twitter comments made by Morgan in 2019 and 2020 that criticized the Democratic Party and its candidates.

The posts were “indisputably political in nature” and part of the discussion surrounding Trump, the suit says.

Almost four months after his wrongful firing, Morgan says, he was notified that the board had opened a disciplinary file against him. The case has since been dismissed.

Morgan contends that the firing violated his First Amendment right as a public employee to speak on matters of public importance.

“These are matters of intense public debate,” Morgan told WTVF. “And the beauty of the First Amendment is that all sides have the right to express themselves in a public forum on matters of public concern.”

Rather than showing bias against Muslims, he has worked with Muslims in Romania who were fleeing the country of Syria, he told WTVF.

“I worked with them, teaching them English, helping them acclimate to Western culture,” he said. “I have no animosity towards Muslims, in general, at all. My position was dealing with Islamic terrorism.”

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