Chambers Wins Appeal Against U.S. Interior Department

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Carol Goldberg (202) 265-7337

Chambers Wins Appeal Against U.S. Interior Department

Privacy Act Violation for Bush Officials Destroying Favorable Personnel Evaluation

WASHINGTON - In a unanimous ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of
Columbia today upheld the claim of former U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa
Chambers that records exonerating her may have been illegally destroyed
by Bush administration officials. The ruling also sets a precedent for
using the Privacy Act to redress improper shredding of personnel files
and other records, according to Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER).

The case involves the disappearance of a favorable performance
evaluation for Chief Chambers prepared by then-Deputy Park Service
Director Donald Murphy covering the same period when Murphy later
alleged Chambers had ignored the chain-of-command – allegations utterly
absent from Murphy’s appraisal, according to sworn testimony. Chambers
is seeking restoration as Chief of the U.S. Park Police following her
dismissal in 2004 after an interview she gave to The Washington Post
concerning staff shortages. Her dismissal was based in part on charges
that would be impeached by a glowing performance evaluation.

In 2005, Chambers filed a lawsuit under the Privacy Act on the
grounds that this key exculpatory evidence had been intentionally and
wrongfully destroyed. In 2008, the federal district court dismissed the
complaint, ruling that the government only had an obligation to
undertake a diligent search for the document. Chambers appealed,
arguing, among other things, that a diligent search was no remedy when
the government had already improperly destroyed the document that was
the object of the search.

“This is an important ruling not only for Teresa Chambers but for
all citizens who rely upon the government to safeguard records about
them,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein who argued the
appeal. “The federal government cannot shred incriminating documents
with impunity.”

The ruling remands the case back for a trial on whether Interior in
fact intentionally destroyed the evaluation. In the meantime, Chambers’
direct challenge to her dismissal is before another federal appellate
court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. That latter
panel has already ruled once for Ms. Chambers only to have two holdover
Republican appointees on the Merits Systems Protection Board again
reject her challenge. Her appeal on the underlying action will be
argued this fall.

A definitive ruling on the missing performance evaluation would
undermine Interior’s contention that the dismissal of Chief Chambers
was justified on the merits.

“The long legal saga of Chief Chambers boils down to one question –
May a public servant be fired for telling the truth, especially a truth
vital to public safety?” Dinerstein added. “We also wonder how long the
Obama administration will want to keep on defending the multiple acts
of misconduct by their predecessors in this case.”

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Read the ruling

Look at the background on the Chambers Privacy Act complaint

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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