Thu04242014

Last updateMon, 21 Apr 2014 8pm

LOS ANGELES Thursday, April 24th 2014 3:05
Archive Full Header

Archive

Hunting and Porn … and Job Security in California

Font Size

WORK PLACE - Most of us – at least the 87 percent or so of us not protected by collective bargaining agreements – have to worry about job security. With only a few exceptions, all of us can be fired for any reason – or for no reason at all.

Two California news “scandals” brought this into sharp relief this week, as a couple of public employees found themselves under fire for some extracurricular activities.
In one case, Daniel Richards, president of the state Fish and Game Commission, shot and killed a mountain lion during a hunting trip in Idaho. In another case, some students discovered that Oxnard middle school teacher Stacie Halas had shot a porn video. Both are facing some degree of popular outrage, and calls for their dismissals.

First things first: No one has yet alleged that either of these two has violated any laws. Hunting mountain lions is illegal in California, after a 1990 voter initiative as well as a 1996 voter reaffirmation of the ban. But Richards was in Idaho. And in Halas’ case, porn remains (with a few exceptions, none of which apply here) legally protected speech.

So why the outrage? After all, these were actions that took place off the job and presumably did not impact the individuals’ job performance. Sure, some people will protest hunting in any circumstance, and some people will protest porn in any circumstance, but such people (god bless the true believers) don’t have much to say in this conversation. Is it possible to analyze the dilemma without any appeal at all to whether either hunting or porn are per se good or bad?

Let’s start with the question of job performance. One might argue that once students find out about Halas’ on-camera performance, it will undermine her classroom performance. Then again, one might also argue that same thing about David, he of After Dentist fame (assuming that in 20 years, David becomes a teacher and his students find the famous video).

The real questions in Halas’ case are legal: Is there a ban on teacher moonlighting? And Is there any sort of “morals clause” that teachers have to abide by? After all, the Oxnard School District superintendent was quoted as saying “maybe it’s not a crime as far as the penal code is concerned, but we feel it’s a crime as far as moral turpitude is concerned.” (My wife’s response to this was probably the most sensible possible: “Heh-heh. He said ‘penal.’”)

In short, the answers are no and no: there is no ban on moonlighting, and there is no moral turpitude rule. And at this week’s school board meeting, parents were apparently so concerned about all this that they stayed away in droves. Perhaps they realized that the school district has bigger problems—like the fact that teachers have to have a second job.

Verdict: Legal, political and practical arguments for dismissal all fail. Reinstate Halas immediately.

Richards’ case is different in two ways. First, he is not just a public servant, but a public official, appointed to his political position first by former Governor Schwarzenegger and then by Governor Brown. Second, there is a direct connection between Richards’ actions and his job, which is to uphold state laws. His charge is to enforce the will of the people, twice voiced, that hunting mountain lions is wrong.

Imagine an official in charge of alcohol control of a dry County leaving the County to go get drunk: it would undermine faith in his ability to do his job. It might even undermine faith that he believes that his job is the right thing to do! It is telling that Richards not only hunted, but proudly sent to the press a picture of himself holding his quarry, and saying “I’m glad it’s legal in Idaho.”

Verdict: Legal argument for dismissal fails; practical argument is strong; political argument is wide open. It’s Jerry Brown’s decision, but Richards does seem to have undermined his own role. Brown should find someone for this position who actually believes in it.

(Jon Zerolnick is LAANE’s research director and posts at fryingpannews.org where this column first appeared.) -cw

Share