A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Franklin County sheriff’s deputy who claimed that Franklin County’s public defenders defamed him and violated his First Amendment rights when they criticized him for attending a Trump rally in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6.
Franklin County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Farmer filed a suit claiming all five public defenders in Franklin County violated his First Amendment rights and defamed him when they penned a letter calling him out for his attendance at the rally and his police record.
In the letter, the public defenders asked Franklin County Sheriff Chris Quire to “re-evaluate the role and placement that Deputy Farmer has in the sheriff’s department.”
An external investigation took place which cleared Farmer of any wrongdoing, though a former police chief and policing policy expert has cast doubt on the quality of the investigation, according to a report from the Frankfort State Journal.
Chief U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell, of the Eastern District of Kentucky, ruled that the public defenders’ letter did not infringe on Farmer’s First Amendment rights, in large part because the public defenders were not acting in an official state capacity, according to court records.
“While the Defendants’ time and energy might be better used in representing indigent clients, they did not act as state officials in writing a letter criticizing Farmer to his employer and the public. They could have acted in the same manner without the authority of their office,” Caldwell wrote in court records.
The public defenders also critiqued Farmer’s police practice, claims which some people who have been arrested by Farmer have repeated.
Farmer participated in an LEX18 interview not long after the riot to defend his decision to participate in Trump’s rally.
“There’s millions of Americans who think the election wasn’t exactly fair and voting discrepancies, it’s something we wanted to take part in,” Farmer told the outlet, calling what occurred later at the U.S. Capitol “disgraceful.”
The sheriff’s deputy was named the office’s Deputy of the Year in 2019, and he was heavily involved in police work related to the “Pappygate” scandal, appearing in a Netflix documentary on the infamous heist of hundreds of rare bourbon bottles.
Farmer’s suit, which claimed the letter caused significant harm to his personal and professional reputation, sought more than $1 million in damages.
Chris Wiest, a Northern Kentucky litigator known best for representing conservatives and filing several high-profile lawsuits challenging government COVID-19 restrictions, represents Farmer in the lawsuit and said that he plans to appeal. That appeal would occur in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
Farmer is still employed by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.
R. Kenyon Meyer, attorney for the public defenders, applauded the decision.
“We are very pleased with the Court’s decision; my clients can continue their daily fight for justice without this lawsuit hanging over their heads,” Meyer said.