BY BUDDY NEVINS
Well-known psychologist Michael Brannon has won a lot of matches under the name of his professional wrestling alter ego – Dr. Red Robert.
This week, Brannon was body slammed by his most formidable opponent ever – a federal judge.
Brannon’s free speech case against Public Defender Howard “Help Me Howard” Finkelstein was thrown out of court.
The psychologist claimed he was blackballed from a public defenders’ consulting contract because he testified in support of the late Judge Cheryl Aleman at a judicial ethics trial. Finkelstein’s office disliked Aleman’s rulings and assistant public defenders had filed the ethics complaint against the judge.
The psychologist argued that his testimony in court was a First Amendment right, which Finkelstein violated.
Federal Judge Donald Graham disagreed.
Graham this week dismissed the case on a summary judgment. He said he found no provable connection between Brannon’s testifying in favor of Aleman and his losing consulting work.
Brannon said he had three major pieces of evidence:
- Finkelstein told another attorney that he was “disappointed” in Brannon’s testimony backing Aleman.
- Finkelstein wrote an e-mail to an assistant stating that that Brannon would “die a death by a 1000 invisible cuts” at the PDs office.
- The psychologist’s earning from the PDs office dropped dramatically after his testimony.
Graham dismissed the first two allegations, saying that Brannon could not prove a nexus between Finkelstein’s comments and the decrease in consulting.
It was noted in court filings that Finkelstein was under pressure to cut his budget and that the method of picking psychological experts had been opened up to others in an attempt to make it fairer.
The judge agreed that Brannon’s earnings had dropped.
During the 2005-2006 fiscal year that he testified in favor or Aleman, Brannon earned $525,000 evaluating public defender clients. By 2009-2010, Brannon was only earning $12,800 from the PDs office.
Again, the judge wrote Brannon had “not presented sufficient evidence to reasonably find Finkelstein was motivated by the protected speech, and Finkelstein has shown the adverse conduct would have taken place regardless of Brannon engaging in the protected speech.”
The lesson in all this: Federal Court may be the only place where the 5-foot 3-inch “Help Me Howard” could pin the 6-foot-plus “Dr. Red Roberts”.
Michael “Dr. Red Roberts” Brannon