Law Clerk Suspended and Then Resigns After Criticizing Police Officer Killed In Accident With Deer

raspajpg-0397ccfc40370108We have previously discussed the increasing trend toward monitoring and disciplining private and public employees for comments on social media. These cases raise difficult questions of free speech in our society. The most recent such case involves Leslie Anderson, a law clerk for a New Jersey judge who resigned after being suspended after she made comments on Facebook criticizing a state trooper who was killed in a crash with a deer. While some praised 24-year-old Anthony Raspa (left) as a hero, Anderson also expressed sympathy for the dead animal, saying “I agree that it is sad and heart-wrenching for the family members left to suffer the consequences of the trooper’s recklessness—especially for the deer family who lost a mommy or daddy or baby deer.”


It is not clear how Anderson viewed the trooper as reckless in the accident since such accidents can occur without any fault of the driver on many roads. Raspa and partner Gene Hong were patrolling on I-195 when their Ford Crown Victoria struck the deer early Saturday. The car careened off the road and hit a tree.

Anderson, a law clerk for Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Travis L. Francis was without question over-the-top in her Facebook posting: “Not that sad, and certainly not ‘tragic,’ Troopers were probably traveling at a dangerously high speed as per usual. Totally preventable. At least they didn’t take any of the citizens they were sworn to serve and protect with them.” She later added that the praise Raspa was receiving by other commenters for his service as “absurd” and “nonsensical” :

330px-White-tailed_deer

“The ‘victim’s’ employment as a state trooper is irrelevant to the circumstances, other than the fact that he injured a fellow trooper and destroyed state property as a result of his recklessness. He wasn’t running into a burning building or otherwise acting within the course of his employment at the time of the accident. The outcry and ‘thank yous’ are absurd, nonsensical, and completely unwarranted. There are people in this country and around the world dying for much less. There is nothing ‘tragic’ about this. Get over yourselves and your sense of entitlement, people . . .

Nonetheless, I agree that it is sad and heart wrenching for the family members left to suffer the consequences of the Trooper’s recklessness — especially for the deer family who lost a mommy or daddy or baby deer.”

The question is not whether these comments are wrong or offensive but the right of someone to engage in such a public debate without fear of retaliation.

I have previously written about concerns that public employees are increasingly being disciplined for actions in their private lives or views or associations outside of work. We have previously seen teachers (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here) students (here, here and here) and other public employees (here and here and here) fired for their private speech or conduct, including school employees fired for posing in magazines (here), appearing on television shows in bikinis (here), or having a prior career in the adult entertainment industry (here).

The question for me is whether she used her court association, which does not appear to be the case. If Anderson was simply engaging in a public discourse, I am concerned that she would be punished for it. She was initially put on a paid suspension before she ultimately resigned under fire from the police association and others. President Chris Burgos insisted that the comments showed that Anderson couldn’t be impartial, but she was merely a law clerk, not the judge.

What do you think?

211 thoughts on “Law Clerk Suspended and Then Resigns After Criticizing Police Officer Killed In Accident With Deer”

  1. I. Annie

    Congrats to your daughter. Not an easy job to get. Lots of competition. Good for her. That clerkship, on her resume, means more than most people realize.

    Personally, I have never clerked for a judge; however, equating these positions with ones found at McDonald’s–in terms of significance–is ridiculous. These clerks are far more than mere paper pushers.

    Having said that, I don’t feel the need to qualify every individual with a tag of CONSERVATIVE or LIBERAL. Who cares if this law clerk is conservative, liberal or anything else? I don’t think of liberals when I think of all the sexual shenanigans committed by the Kennedy clan, so why should I think of conservatives when this law clerk, or Hastert, is mentioned? I don’t know this woman’s political affiliation. I don’t care. It is irrelevant.

  2. Paul C

    You seem to be missing the point. The fact that newly graduated law students often fill these positions, technically making them starter jobs, ignores the prestige and certain degree of cache that accompanies these jobs. There is no scarcity of jobs at McDonald’s; these law clerk jobs are not found in abundance. There is no prestige or honor granted to one for working at Mickey D’s; there is a certain amount of prestige and honor when one is selected, among the many applicants, to be the one and only working for that particular judge. Fast food workers ask you if you want to upsize your order; law clerks research the law and influence judicial decisions. Starter jobs are not created equally. Having clerked for a judge, on your resume, means a heck of a lot more than having chief french fry cook at McDonald’s on your list of accomplishments. Law students are vying for these jobs; jobs at McDonald’s are readily available and have a high turnover.

  3. BamBam, Paul is a legal scholar and knows far more than you do, as an attorney, lol.

    Sarc/

  4. BamBam,
    Except she’s a conservative.

    Law clerking is a coveted position. My daughter clerked for a WI Supreme Court judge and she was quite thrilled.

    1. Inga – Let’s see which is more prestigious, clerking for a federal judge or clerking for a state judge. Hmmm?

        1. Inga – who is going to call me a liar. Which is more prestigious? Federal or state? I say federal.

  5. Paul C

    I beg to differ with your comment equating clerking for a judge with working at McDonald’s. Granted, the more highly regarded the judge, the more prestigious the position. Yes, this is often a starter job, with not the greatest of pay, but these are coveted jobs in the legal system. Don’t confuse clerking for a judge with someone who works, in the court, filing papers and answering the phones. There is no connection. Law clerks, who specifically work for judges, can, and do, carry significant clout. See LexiCat’s description of what these positions often encompass. Many very well-known and established members of the legal system once clerked for judges. Google it. It’s a Who’s Who of the legal community. It’s considered a job that lends a feather to your cap, so to speak. This law clerk was suspended for good reason. She was a disgrace to the judge and, I would argue, to the legal system as a whole. As you said, her livelihood wasn’t destroyed, only her job. I’m sure that the ACLU will welcome her with open arms. She seems like their kinda gal.

    1. bam bam – there are starter jobs and then their are Starter jobs. This was a starter job. This is McDonald’s level starters level. The job of McDonald’s is to train young people for the job market. The job of law clerks is to be trained for the legal field.

  6. The comment about the deer–and anthropomorphizing in general–is stupid, but hardly an offense worthy of losing a livelihood. We’re so sensitive about so much, can’t we just agree to shake our heads at the idiocy of some without pillorying them? This is a law clerk–a wholly insignificant drone in the great scheme of things, and while we may judge her it seems overly petty and vindictive to punish her to this degree. Now, if this was an elected public official we’d be within reasonable bounds to make the choice not to vote–or even, in the meantime, demand an explanation, or even an apology–but destroying someone financially for verbal diarrhea is as absurd as her comments.

    1. JunkChuck – she hasn’t lost her livelihood, just her job. A starter job at that. For attorneys it is like working at McDonald’s.

  7. Paul:

    http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/explaining-pedophilia

    You are entirely correct. Pedophilia is defined as a psychiatric disorder in which someone experiences sexual attraction for someone less than or equal to 13 years of age.

    Having relations with a person who is older than 13 but still a minor is still against the law, and completely gross and abusive, in my opinion, unless it’s an 18 year old with his 17 year old girlfriend. An adult’s attraction to a pubescent child is a different disorder called “hebephilia”, a term I always have to look up.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebephilia

    1. Karen – most places will give you a five year difference in ages. Girls mature faster than boys, both physically and emotionally. That is why the senior boys are all dating the freshman girls.

  8. Bam Bam:

    “it also comes with an expected standard of conduct and behavior.” I agree with you that her behavior was reprehensible.

    Since I am not involved in the law, I have no idea what a law clerk does, or if she interacts with police officers or the public. People have mentioned that she is a reflection on the judge. Perhaps her bigotry would cast doubt on the judge’s impartiality in the same sense that the DA of Baltimore’s politician husband ranting about the case casts doubt on her own impartiality.

    I have concerns about the slippery slope of firing people for free speech on their private time. Unless an employee was representing a company at the time, I don’t want him followed to a bar where a crude joke or clumsy pickup line would get him fired, for example. I agree that businesses are sometimes forced to fire an employee when their behavior reflects so poorly on them that their own reputation suffers. So this is a difficult issue.

    If this woman’s lack of judgement affects her ability to do her job, or casts doubt on the judge’s ability to do his job, then there would be grounds for termination.

    I firmly believe that we must defend the right to free speech, even when such speech is vile and ignorant. So I think this is a good debate to have, as to when it is permissible to fire someone for private free speech.

    It is ironic that Mike A criticized Pogo’s remarks masked under anonymity, on a post where someone was fired for personal remarks. The comments section of this blog is where people make unguarded posts about their own personal opinions. We have seen many stories where people punish others for their opinions by trying to destroy their businesses or getting them fired. Only the retired or perhaps those on disability who will never need to seek a job again can afford to publicly state their opinions on controversial subjects, and even those can still fear retaliation of some kind. Tolerance for messy, diverse opinions is diminishing.

  9. I am not sure I understand the concept of “cop hater” or “cop lover” because as with most professions with violence potential, there will be some bad among the good. I am old enough to have grown up in the era of beat cops on foot who had to call emergencies in from “call boxes” (for both police & fire folk) on poles spaced a couple blocks or so apart. They were alone and on their own and we grew up respecting them with very few exceptions. They all knew our names and we knew theirs. They were a necessity in the city and we felt safer when we saw them on their rounds. “Helicopter Parents” were unnecessary in those days…e.g., the 40’s and early 50’s. No school buses in the city, we all walked to school, though seldom 6 miles uphill both ways 🙂 My hike through grammar school was about a mile and I never saw a parent with any of the kids…unlike today when I see many parents escorting their kids to school in my urban neighborhood. Times have changed and I wonder just how much of those changes are the result of different demands by a populace. Did we disable our protections by insisting on more “efficiency” and less face to face interaction?

    Full disclosure: I tend to admire soldiers, sailors, Marines, and Air Force men and women because they seem to be willing to make a sacrifice I’m not sure I could make anymore….although I once did and have a taste for the fear involved and how to work through it. I even have this knee jerk reaction when approaching a senior officer…I almost salute them, which is unnecessary but it feels good to have the impulse. I feel more or less the same way toward police officers….99% of the time I am very glad to see them. At times they’ve gone out of their way to assist me with sundry odd things, one of them like capturing a terrified large dog who’d been chased by kids who just wanted to hug it, but finally “trapped” it in a closed alley strip. In the middle of the night I called them and they came, with a capture pole they acquired from the local shelter and with guidance by me on how to use it, they insisted they’d do it, rather than just back me up. Thanking me none-the-less. A fearful dog is a dangerous biter, through no fault of its own, and this one was in very close quarters where the risk was high…especially for the little kids I knew would be back at in the morning since the dog was not moving out of what it thought was a narrow safety zone. No one even hinted at drawing a gun. Once we got the dog to the back seat of a patrol car, he calmed down, and took kibble bits through the window from both me and the cops…licking our hands in the process. They took him to the shelter and dropped him off with the night caretaker. They could have blown me off, but did not…they came when needed and asked to do so….and found me squatting in the entrance to the narrow alley way holding kibble bites. So there you have my view of cops, A great many will step out of their routine to help a citizen. Call me naive.

    Thus it pains me when I read credible reports of police, or soldier, malfeasance, because it is contrary to men and women I’ve known most of my life. I’ve cited WO Hugh Thompson a few times previously….there was a man who put his life on the line, against other Americans gone berserk at My Lai…just because he had to do so for both moral & UCMJ reasons. I doubt I’d have had that much courage and resolve. So, yes, my first instinct is respect. And, yes, I would really like to see beat cops on foot today as well, but money (efficiency?) seems to preclude that now. It is our loss.

  10. Yes, you can say that. We will not stop you from saying it. Just don’t expect it to go over well.

  11. I think that people have every right to make fools of themselves in public and she was within her rights to do so.

    I also think that the judge has the right to distance himself from a foolish clerk.

  12. @bettykath
    “It was intemperate of her to make the post because sometimes the truth hurts. The comment about the deer family was really a bit too far.The crown vic is a heavy car and should have absorbed most of the impact of hitting the tree unless the trooper was driving with a great deal of excessive speed.”

    “Intemperate”? I suggest that her remarks, although protected speech, were callous and polarizing to the point of being stupid.

    A man had just lost his life. It was hardly the time to rail against his shortcomings, real or imagined, let alone express more sympathy for the deer than for the man who died.

    Having said that, I unequivocally share JT’s concern about retaliation against people by their employers when they exercise their First Amendment right to freely express themselves on social media, however unadvisedly, independently of their employment.

    With respect to the factors that may have been involved in Trooper Raspa’s death, and respecting measures that can be taken to reduce the number of police fatalities in vehicles, the following statistics, although dated, are relevant:

    “After a 50-year low in 2009, the number of police officers killed in the line of duty jumped in 2010. Traffic accidents accounted for 73 of 160 police deaths nationwide. [emphasis added] Cpl. Dan Ward of the Tulsa Police Department’s Precision Driver Training Unit explains why driving on the job is so dangerous.”
    http://www.npr.org/2010/12/29/132441719/Traffic-Accidents-Leading-Cause-Of-Police-Deaths

    Furthermore, “At least 42% of police officers killed in vehicle crashes over the past three decades were not wearing seat belts or other safety restraints, according to a federal review.

    “The study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which analyzed 733 crashes from 1980 through 2008, comes less than a week after a separate report found that fatal traffic incidents in 2010 were the leading cause of officer deaths for the 13th straight year.”
    http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2011-01-04-1Acopdeaths04_ST_N.htm

  13. @bettykath

    The truth hurts? Just what exactly is/was the truth here? Both you and the law clerk seem to know. Are you a crash expert? You, in all your great wisdom, know that the Crown Vic had to be going at an excessive speed in order for one officer to die and the other to get injured when the car crashed into the tree? I’m going to make a wild assumption and guess that you have no particular expertise in this field. That, coupled with no evidence that there was any recklessness involved when this car collided with a deer, makes your assumption asinine. Do a little homework. While many fatalities are the result of drivers travelling at an excessive speed without seat belts, there are many fatalities and severe injuries when speed is not a factor. Some vehicles that I have personally witnessed, post crash, have relatively minor body damage, yet the occupants have either died or been seriously injured.

    So, big deal that you had an encounter with a testy cop. Big blanking deal. We all have. News flash. They are human beings. Your anecdotal observations, about seeing their vehicles speeding on the roads, are meaningless as they pertain to the story at hand and do not justify the implication that this dead officer somehow brought this tragedy upon himself. Your statement pertaining to the officer you encountered, during your accident with a deer, claiming that he would have preferred to see you trapped in your car or severely injured, is another one of your strange and outlandish proclamations. It’s called projection, and it alters our perception of reality.

    You see, folks, cop-hating comes through, loud and clear, in a variety of ways.

  14. Paul C … that “parade” is a regular phenomena in Ohio 😀 One should never mess with the Ohio Highway Patrol.

    Funny thing is, it works…people just drive sanely (speed limit) there it seems to me anyway. The Ohio drivers do have a flaw…that tendency to stop at the bottom of freeway or toll road entrance ramps…probably derived from the days there were “stop signs” at those ramp bottoms. In Michigan you’re expected to be going 55 mph+ at the ramp bottoms, not stopping.

  15. It was intemperate of her to make the post because sometimes the truth hurts. The comment about the deer family was really a bit too far. The crown vic is a heavy car and should have absorbed most of the impact of hitting the tree unless the trooper was driving with a great deal of excessive speed.

    I was hit by a deer on a dark rainy night on an interstate. I called the cops for two reasons: make sure the deer is off the road and to file a report for my insurance company so I wouldn’t have a hassle when I made the claim. The trooper’s attitude wasn’t the best. I really felt that he would have been happier if I had been trapped in the car and severely injured.

    As for troopers speeding, I do a fair amount of interstate travel and it’s not at all unusual for a police car to go whizzing by, well over the speed limit, without the flashers on. It’s dangerous for them and all other drivers on the road.

    1. bettykath – periodically the highway patrol will get on the freeway and drive the exact speed limit. Of course, no one has the balls to pass the Highway Patrol, so this parade starts, which gets longer and longer.

  16. Wade,

    Yes, he was the real deal, the last expression of which was, reportedly, as he sipped champagne on his deathbed, “Alas, I am dying beyond my means.”

    Ken

  17. @ Paul C. Schulte

    “Nick – have you noticed that it seems that some people seem to keep a file on other people on here. I find some things being parroted back that were said a long time back. Strange.”

    If I were you or Nick, I, too, would be embarrassed to be reminded of many things I’d written, Paul. 🙂

    Moreover, remarks that are particularly revealing of the mindset generating them tend to stick in people’s memories.

    I suggest that the best solution to that “strange” problem is to be more thoughtful before publishing your comments, instead of presuming, as you both apparently do, that any half-baked thought that pops into your head is a pearl of great wisdom.

  18. @ Wadewilliams

    “Oscar Wilde is always worth quoting:

    ” ‘I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out.’ ”

    How telling, “No Neck,” that you quote a subversive, left-wing, cop-hating hommo-sexual prevert with borderline personality disorder.

    You lefties are soooo predictable.

  19. Oscar Wilde is always worth quoting:

    I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out.

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