Indiana Official Fired for Remarks on Twitter

By Mary Collins

Indiana Official Fired for Remarks on Twitter

February 24, 2011 Updated Feb 24, 2011 at 10:49 AM EDT

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind., (Indiana's NewsCenter)--- An Indiana deputy attorney general was fired Wednesday after he suggested -- among many provocative remarks on a private Twitter account and blog -- that police use live ammunition to clear union protesters from the state Capitol in Wisconsin.

The Indiana attorney general's office learned of the remarks after Mother Jones, a liberal nonprofit news magazine, published a story online Wednesday.

The exchange started Sunday, when Jeff Cox, 39, tweeted "use live ammunition" in response to a Mother Jones tweet that riot police had been ordered to remove union supporters from the Wisconsin state Capitol in Madison.

In the article published online, the reporter, Adam Weinstein, said he confronted Cox on Twitter.

"He tweeted back that the demonstrators were 'political enemies' and 'thugs' who were 'physically threatening legally elected officials,' " Weinstein wrote in Wednesday's article. "In response to such behavior, he said, 'You're damned right I advocate deadly force.' He later called me a 'typical leftist,' adding, 'Liberals hate police.' "

Weinstein discovered Sunday that Cox was a deputy attorney general. Cox had listed his profession only as "lawyer" on his Twitter account.

In a written statement released late Wednesday, Cox said the post was not meant to be taken literally, "and I don't think any reasonable person would conclude otherwise."

Cox admitted that he made "a lousy choice of words," which he regrets, but said the affair has been blown out of proportion. He also lamented what he considers a double standard about who can talk.

"The big question before us is whether or not public employees maintain their First Amendment rights once hired by the government," the statement said. "The attorney general's office was well-aware of my blog, which started over seven years ago, and at no time did they express any concern about its content."

Attorney General Greg Zoeller wasn't available Wednesday for comment. Spokesman Bryan Corbin said it's the first time the office has terminated anyone over social media use.

Cox had been a deputy attorney general since October 2003. His work focused on eminent domain issues for the Indiana Department of Transportation.

He was one of more than 140 attorneys in the office.

Corbin, the attorney general's spokesman, said the agency has no formal rules on social media but is developing them. He said the employee handbook, however, is clear that employees should conduct themselves in a professional manner during and after working hours.

"We respect individuals' First Amendment right to express their personal views on private online forums, but as public servants we are held by the public to a higher standard, and we should strive for civility," Corbin said.

Jeff Cox's statement about his firing

“Today I was fired from my position at the Office of the Indiana Attorney General for statements that I made on my personal Twitter account and blog Pro Cynic outside of work.

This past weekend I was contacted by a far leftist blogger from San Francisco who didn’t like a recent Twitter post I made which was clearly political satire. My post used a ridiculous tone and solution to the challenges associated with the Wisconsin statehouse protests. In no way was my post meant to be taken literally and I don’t think any reasonable person would conclude otherwise.

This post and many other outrageous comments made by me on either Twitter or my blog over the years have been a combination of serious political debate and over-the-top cynicism. This approach has successfully served to get people’s attention and draw them into a substantive debate on political issues of the day. I have never posted anything that related to my duties and responsibilities with the state. Nor have I ever used state resources or blogged during or at work.

The big question before us is whether or not public employees maintain their First Amendment rights once hired by the government. The Attorney General’s Office was well aware of my blog which started over seven years ago and at no time did they express any concern about its content.

Today that office stated that “We respect individuals' First Amendment right to express their personal views on private online forums, but as public servants we are held by the public to a higher standard, and we should strive for civility." Does this mean that a public employee has “first amendment rights” unless your government feels you are not “civil” enough or meeting an undefined “higher standard” even away from the workplace?

Yes, I made a lousy choice of words that too many people find “out-of-bounds” today. I regret that decision and will tone things down in the future. Yet, this entire situation has been blown out of proportion and has highlighted what I feel is a double standard regarding who can talk and who can’t.”




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