Criminal Charges Against Boeing Whistleblower Set Dangerous Precedent: Jurors Disagreed on Earlier Charges Resulting in a Mistrial
This weekend POGO learned that former Boeing quality assurance inspector Gerald Eastman is facing a second round of criminal charges for his whistle-blowing to the press. King County prosecutors will announce a new trial date on April 30th, 2008 according to an email from Senior Deputy Prosecutor Scott Peterson to Eastman's public defender, Ramona Brandes.
"The charges against Eastman are a message to all potential whistle-blowers at Boeing," said Nick Schwellenbach, an investigator at POGO. "The message from Boeing is clear: We'll try to send you to jail if you disclose information to the press.”
Eastman was discovered accessing and downloading internal Boeing information, some of which he shared with reporters at the Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Eastman's disclosures to the press mostly concerned quality assurance and inspection problems he perceived while working at Boeing, though many of the articles he sparked related to increasing outsourcing of Boeing's production.
After conferring with Boeing, the King County prosecutor's office last month pursued criminal charges against Eastman for "computer trespass," a charge normally used against hackers, not whistle-blowers. The first trial resulted in a hung jury because some of the jurors believed Eastman's activities were whistle-blowing and should not result in criminal prosecution. The judge in that case told jurors not to consider whistle-blower laws.
Several lawyers have told POGO that the Eastman case is part of a disturbing trend of whistle-blowers increasingly facing criminal prosecution. The First Amendment right of free speech is a typical and powerful defense in these cases. Although a company can often legally terminate an employee, it is considered extreme for a government prosecutor to attempt to jail a whistle-blower for his activities.
Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.