Catch You Later: The Serenity of Being a Whistleblower

Stories of “whistleblowers” exposing government corruption have been popular for as long as there have been governments.

However, to what extent are “whistleblowing” movies within the scope of whistleblowing laws?

Moreover, how do these rules apply when the government’s form of retaliation is to kill the whistleblower?

Whistle While You Work

Whistleblowing is defined under the Black’s Law iPad App as “An employee who reports employer wrongdoing to a governmental or law-enforcement agency. Federal and state laws protect whistleblowers from employer retaliation.”

Here are examples of whistleblower statutes for government employees:

(1) (a) An employer may not take adverse action against an employee because the employee, or a person authorized to act on behalf of the employee, communicates in good faith the existence of any waste of public funds, property or manpower, or a violation or suspected violation of a law, rule or regulation adopted under the law of this state, a political subdivision of this state or the United States. Such communication shall be made at a time and in a manner which gives the employer reasonable opportunity to correct the waste or violation.

Idaho Code § 6-2104 (2012)

An employer shall not discharge, threaten, or otherwise discriminate against an employee regarding the employee’s compensation, terms, conditions, location, or privileges of employment:

(1) Because the employee, or a person acting on behalf of the employee, reports or is about to report to a public body, verbally or in writing, a violation which the employee knows or reasonably believes has occurred or is about to occur, unless the employee knows or has reason to know that the report is false; or

(2) Because an employee participates or is requested by a public body to participate in an investigation, hearing, or inquiry held by that public body, or a court action, in connection with a violation as defined in this chapter; or

(3) Because an employee refuses to commit or assist in the commission of a violation, as defined in this chapter;

or

(4) Because the employee reports verbally or in writing to the employer or to the employee’s supervisor a violation, which the employee knows or reasonably believes has occurred or is about to occur, unless the employee knows or has reason to know that the report is false. Provided, however that if the report is verbally made, the employee must establish by clear and convincing evidence that such report was made.

19 Del. C. § 1703 (2012)

Here are the basics of whistleblowing: Employers cannot punish an employee who is lawfully reporting to the government or law enforcement of the employer’s wrongdoing. This usually involves unlawful or wasteful government action, but there are private sector examples (think Karen Silkwood).

Let’s review three movies where the heroes “reported” violations of the law:

LA Confidential: On the Q-T And Always Hush Hush

Murder, drugs, vice, blackmail, and police cover-ups in post-World War 2 Los Angeles dominate the classic LA Confidential.

The multiple crimes are as complex as the LA freeway system. However, the goal of the dirty cops was simple: take over Mickey Cohen’s drug racket.

LA Confidential raises several twists with being a whistleblower. One was the DA was being blackmailed, thus destroying his ability to press any charges and making him a de facto co-conspirator by his silence. Second was the corrupt cops were killed in a gunfight while attempting to murder the remaining heroes. The story of how bad their actions were would have destroyed the reputation of the department for decades, so everyone participates in a cover-up.

The good guys win, but not by following the law. The authorities opt for the noble lie opposed to destroying the legitimacy of law enforcement with the truth. While this legally is abhorrent, the Machiavellian reasoning makes sense for the greater good [of the elected officials].

With that said, no Mayor, District Attorney, Police Chief or other elected or appointed government official should think cover-ups are a good idea. It always ends badly.

Blue Thunder: One civilian dead for every ten terrorists. That’s an acceptable ratio.

….Unless you are one of the civilians.

Blue Thunder was the story of the military developing an armed police helicopter prior to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles to combat terrorism. No one wanted a Munich repeat.

The political back story was the for the helicopter to be used to put down “civil disobedience” such as riots and eliminate political enemies. Moreover, there are unexplored 4th Amendment issues of the police having a silent helicopter that could record infrared video and audio of an unsuspecting public. Additionally, in the days long before the Internet and Google, the police had access to computer network of home security systems to know if homeowners were home.

The hero Frank Murphy, played by Roy Scheider, uncovered the secret purpose of Blue Thunder on a test flight, plus a conspiracy by Feds to kill him. Murphy’s whistleblowing actions included stealing the helicopter and having his girlfriend deliver an infrared video and audio recording to a news channel with Feds engaged in conspiracy planning. Along the way, the following property damage takes place:

2 Police Helicopters Crashed
1 Police Car Shot in Two
1 Police Motorcycle Crashes
1 BBQ Restaurant Hit by Heat Seeking Missile
One Downtown LA Building Hit by a Missile
1 F-16 (Which had to crash in downtown LA)
1 Military Helicopter
1 Freight Train Runs over Blue Thunder
Blue Thunder itself is Destroyed

Blue Thunder is problematic, because the amount of property damage and threats to life push whistleblowing, the necessity defense and self-defense to new limits (it is worth noting Murphy does not appear to get a police officer or member of the public killed). However, normal whistleblowing reporting was unavailable, due to political assassination of a city council woman, the murder of Murphy’s partner, and the active plot to kill Murphy, extreme measures appeared to be the only option. Time was also of the essence before the recording would be destroyed, resulting in the loss of evidence.

While no one gets killed on screen during Murphy’s flight besides the villain, this whistleblowing would be an insurance nightmare and have an extreme amount of litigation.

Serenity: They Won’t See This Coming

Malcolm Reynolds and the crew of Serenity were whistleblowers, provided the Alliance had allowed a private right of action to report on government corruption.

In the film Serenity, the Parliament experimented on the population of the planet Miranda in an attempt to weed out aggression. It did not work, resulting in 30 million dead and the creation of the Reavers, insane cannibalistic madman lacking any social structure.

The crew’s attempt of broadcasting a report from Miranda that exposed the government wrongdoing is whistleblowing in the purest sense. However, spaceships, gunfights and cannibal rapists on the other hand are generally not involved whistleblowing stories.

Whistleblower Ballads

Whistleblower movies far exceed the act of simply reporting unlawful activity. With few exceptions, whistleblowing does not have attempted murder of the whistleblower. However, it has someone brave enough to report the violation, which then results in lawyers conducting document review to find out what happened. This is less exciting than spaceships, helicopters and shootouts.

A story slightly closer to the truth on whistleblowing would be Michael Clayton. Granted, this story does involve corporate counsel organizing the murder of trial counsel (which is not the proper response to an attorney violating the duty of loyalty, attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine). However, it does end with the attorney hero getting an incriminating statement from corporate counsel for the police to start arresting corporate counsel and other executives.

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