Chief Moose appeals ruling on sniper spree book
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose Monday appealed a county ethics commission ruling that bars him from profiting from his autobiography focused on last October's sniper spree.
"Even criminals have a right to publish books about their crimes," said Washington College of Law Professor Jamin Raskin, a member of Moose's legal team. "If hitmen for the mob and mass murderers have a First Amendment right to write and publish books about crime, why don't police chiefs?"
Moose has signed a contract with Dutton Books of New York to write about his experiences, and has signed on as a consultant to a movie about the ordeal. He has finished seven chapters of the book.
But a county ethics commission ruled last month that the book and movie deals violate the county's ethics code, which prohibits employees from using the "prestige of office" for private gain.
Moose's attorney, Ronald Karp, said the decision is being appealed to the Montgomery County Circuit Court, and that he may pursue other court actions. He described the appeal as a major First Amendment case.
"We're talking about suppressing a book," he said. "It's hard for me to believe that we're here in the year 2003 and we're discussing suppression of a book.
"This is not a book about national security issues. It is a book about Chief Moose's life and how his experiences prepared him to deal with a public crisis."
Elizabeth Kellar, chairman of the county ethics commission, said the decision in the Moose case is similar to a ruling the commission made when several police officers asked if they could accept honoraria for speaking about the sniper incident at forums. The commission said they couldn't.
"We've just been consistent in our view that you can't use the prestige of your office for personal gain," Kellar said.
In its March decision on the Moose case, the commission said the ethics rule does not violate employees' First Amendment rights.
"The Commission's opinion is supported by the federal government's conclusion that it can prohibit its employees from accepting outside compensation for teaching, speaking, or writing that relates to an employee's official duties, consistent with the First Amendment," the decision says.
Said Raskin: "The county simply does not own Chief Moose's intellectual property rights in his own professional and life experiences. If he wants to write a book on his own time, with his own resources, that is his inalienable, constitutional right."
Moose was not present at a Monday news conference to announce the appeal because he is currently serving as a major with the D.C. Air National Guard. But his wife attended the event.
"It was distressing to read that Maj. Moose possibly could be jailed in this great land for exercising what we believe to be his rights under the United States Constitution," she said.
-- CNN Producer Mike Ahlers contributed to this report.