'Joe the Plumber' loses bid to revive suit

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 27, 2012 1:49 PM
'Joe the Plumber' loses bid to revive suit

By Terry Baynes

(Reuters) - Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, the Ohio congressional candidate better known as "Joe the Plumber," has lost a bid to revive his lawsuit against three Ohio officials accused of illegally accessing his personal information.

The Cincinnati-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit on Tuesday upheld a federal court's decision to dismiss Wurzelbacher's suit against Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Helen Jones-Kelley and two other department officials.

Wurzelbacher caught the public spotlight in 2008 after questioning then-presidential candidate Barack Obama on his tax policy as he campaigned door-to-door in an Ohio neighborhood. Republican candidate John McCain and the GOP seized on Wurzelbacher as the working-class everyman who would be hurt by Obama's tax plans.

After his rise to fame, Wurzelbacher sued in 2009, accusing Jones-Kelley and the other Ohio officials of authorizing searches on him in confidential state databases that tracked child support enforcement, welfare and unemployment benefit recipients. The searches were not related to any official agency business but rather were conducted in retaliation for speaking out against Obama, the suit alleged.

Jones-Kelley and another defendant resigned as a result of the searches, and the third lost his job.

Wurzelbacher argued that the file-snooping was an attempt to stifle his political comments and violated his free-speech and privacy rights. But the appeals court disagreed, finding the improper database searches did not amount to a constitutional violation.

"The complaint contains no information regarding what, if any, information was discovered. Moreover, if any information was obtained, it was never publicly disclosed," Judge Richard Griffin wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel.

"It can't be that government officials can rifle through your files without fear of being held accountable," said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, the conservative group that filed the suit for Wurzelbacher. He said attorneys were reviewing the opinion and deciding whether to appeal the case further.

The Ohio Attorney General's Office did not immediately provide a comment.

Earlier this month, Wurzelbacher won the Republican Congressional primary in Ohio's 9th Congressional District, which includes the city of Toledo and surrounding areas. He will go on to face veteran U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur, the Democratic nominee, in the November election.

(Reporting By Terry Baynes; Editing by Paul Thomasch)