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Ruling voids immunity for Swift

More than two years after then-acting governor Jane Swift fired a board member of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority over his vote to postpone a toll hike, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday that Swift may not be protected from paying monetary damages to him.

The ruling from the First US Circuit Court of Appeals vacates an earlier decision from US District Judge Robert Keeton, who ruled in December 2002 that Swift, as governor, had qualified immunity, or protections against monetary damages, in a lawsuit filed by former Turnpike Authority member Christy Mihos.

In his lawsuit, Mihos said Swift violated his First Amendment rights when she fired him from the board after he and fellow board member Jordan Levy voted to postpone a planned toll hike.

Swift said she fired the two men because the vote was "fiscally irresponsible" and damaged the authority's financial stability.

In two rulings Keeton issued in the case, he found that Swift had violated Mihos's First Amendment rights. The judge initially rejected Swift's qualified immunity defense, but in his second ruling, reversed course and ruled that the law protected Swift against claims for damages from Mihos's lawsuit.

The appeals court vacated Keeton's denial of damages and remanded the case back to the lower court for additional proceedings.

The appeals court said Swift, at this point in the proceedings, is not entitled to qualified immunity, finding that "a reasonable public official would have known that the discharge constituted a constitutional violation."

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