Brent Zell Jul. 8, 2016, 6:06pm


ORLANDO – A former assistant state attorney in Florida's 9th Judicial Circuit was fired over comments he made on social media in the wake of the fatal shootings at the Pulse nightclub.

According to ABCNews.com, Kenneth Lewis was fired June 23 after being suspended for writing on his Facebook page on June 12 that: “The entire city should be leveled. It is void of any redeeming quality...It is void of culture. If you live down there you do it at your own risk and at your own peril.”

Fifty people, including the alleged assailant, were killed in the attack at Pulse.

On June 23, Lewis posted on his Twitter account: “I just got fired for a Facebook post after 20 years as a prosecutor. The founding fathers would turn in their graves. God help this country!”

And then, in a June 28 Facebook post in which he endorses Brian Byrd for Seminole County Soil and Water, Lewis wrote: “During my 20 year career as a prosecutor, which concluded for exercising my First Amendment rights …”

The June 12 post wasn't the first time Lewis was in hot water over social media comments. WFTV in Orlando reported that Lewis was temporarily reassigned in 2014 after he used an unflattering term for female drug users in a post.

On June 18, WBAL.com published a statement from state attorney spokeswoman Angela Starke that said Lewis suspended for violating a social media policy in which “failure to comply can result in discipline up to and including termination.”

J. Wiley Horton, a partner in Florida's Pennington Law Firm, told the Florida Record that he doesn't see a First Amendment issue in this instance.

“The rule in Florida generally, because we follow what is referred to as the at-will doctrine, is that an employee can be fired for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all,” he said. “I think the individual made a statement that he was ... fired for exercising his First Amendment rights, which may be factually true, but that doesn't mean that there was anything improper about the fire.”

Horton said he's often surprised, particularly with younger people, by how much stuff people put on social media and then are shocked that their employers review and react to it.

“There seems to be a growing concept that you have one life in your employment place and then some separate life that you post online,” he said. “I don't think anyone these days has a reasonable expectation that things they publicly post aren't going to be seen, basically, by everybody.”

Horton said employers may still be catching up to employees' use of social media and how to handle it, but most employers seem to be rapidly expanding the use of social media reviews.

“When a prospective employee arrives and submits a resume, I think most employers now are going online and seeing what sort of things this person posts,” he said.

The 9th Judicial Circuit covers Orange and Osceola counties, according to NinthCircuit.org.

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9th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida
425 North Orange Avenue
Orlando, FL 32801

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