A South Bay lawyer had the right to spy on a public official based on a mistaken theory that the city manager and the city attorney were having an affair, according to an appellate panel in San Jose last week.

Attorney Bruce Tichinin felt that his clients were being given unfavorable decisions because of what he suspected was a romantic relationship between Morgan Hill City Manager Ed Tewes and then-City Attorney Helene Leichter.

He hired the investigator in 2004, who was caught snooping, leading to a council resolution condemning Tichinin for surveillance and falsehood.

Tichinin filed a lawsuit against the city for violating what he said were first amendment rights and damaging his reputation and law practice. The judge ruled that the council held its own constitutional rights to criticize him dismissed the claim.

Now years later, the appeals court said that Tichinin had the right to explore whether or not a possible conflict of interest was hurting his clients.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Tichinin’s attorney says the ruling is good news for anyone, including the media, who is trying to see what public officials are up to.

Also in the Chronicle’s report, Morgan Hill City Attorney Danny Wan said that local officials should be concerned when a court extends constitutional protection to “spying on city employees based on just rumors.”

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