Further Pain on Appeal for Gun-Safety Instructor Who Shot Himself

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The Legal Times reports that on January 17, the D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Lee Paige's lawsuit against his employer, the Drug Enforcement Administration, likely bringing this saga to a close.

As you may recall, Mr. Paige shot himself in the leg in 2004, approximately three seconds after telling a roomful of people that he was the only person in the room "professional enough" to handle a gun. Painful in a different way was the fact that an audience member had been recording the gun-safety presentation, a video that later reached the Internet. Paige sued the DEA in 2006, claiming someone there had leaked the video, causing him embarrassment and further injury. For example, he alleged, "[a]s a result of the notoriety arising from the disclosure of the videotape, Mr. Paige is no longer permitted or able to give educational motivational speeches and presentations." As I suggested before, that may not be a result of the notoriety per se, but rather the strange aversion people have developed to being in the same room with him when he's armed.

Paige's claims were based on federal and Florida state privacy laws, which (generally speaking) prohibit the intentional or willful disclosure of private facts under certain circumstances. But like the district judge, the D.C. Circuit ruled that Paige could not prove these claims. An internal DEA investigation had (maybe unsurprisingly) failed to determine who released the video, and although the court had some harsh words for the DEA's data-handling procedures, it found there was no proof of intentional or willful disclosure.

Even if there had been, Paige's bigger problem was that he was making a privacy claim about something he did in public, and which was being recorded with his knowledge. Paige was giving a gun-safety demonstration (or maybe "gun-danger demonstration" is more appropriate) to the public in a public place, and this did not involve any private facts, even if the results were embarrassing. In fact, the court held that the incident was a "matter of public concern," another reason that Paige had no right to keep it private. For example, the court noted, the public "has a legitimate interest in the manner in which law enforcement officers perform their duties," an interest that in my opinion is especially strong as to officers who, after inadvertently shooting themselves during a demonstration, then ask an assistant to bring them a second gun so the show can go on. Despite his bravery, the audience decided not to stick around, and this seems like information that future audiences might like to have as well.

It doesn't look like there are any potential issues here for the U.S. Supreme Court, which is bad for Paige's case but probably best for whatever reputation he may have left.