U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear Pierce appeal

Published 5:38 pm Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear an appeal from a former Mississippi Air National Guard officer who alleged the military violated his privacy rights by releasing a report on a wide-ranging probe of corruption in his unit.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2007 ruled against Robert Pierce, a former colonel at the National Guard’s 186th Air Refueling Wing in Meridian who sued the U.S. Air Force for allegedly disclosing information that linked him to the investigation.

A federal judge in Mississippi threw out Pierce’s lawsuit in 2006.

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The Supreme Court’s refusal on Monday to hear Pierce’s case means the ruling stands.

In February 2001, Col. Joe Bryant, a former pilot for the 186th, filed a complaint accusing Pierce and other officers of wrongful conduct and a host of improprieties.

Among Bryant’s claims were that Pierce cheated on exams and papers, had an improper relationship with a female subordinate, used aircraft for unauthorized flights, wrongfully received Air Force wings and threatened to take action against subordinates if they cooperated with investigators.

A report on Bryant’s allegations only listed Pierce’s title and didn’t mention him by name, but newspaper reports on the investigation identified him as one of the officers accused of wrongdoing.

After receiving the report, Bryant or his wife allegedly informed reporters that Pierce was one of the officers who was a target of the probe. Pierce blamed military officials for the disclosure, but a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit disagreed.

The 5th Circuit said the fact that the newspapers made the connection to Pierce and identified him does not establish a Privacy Act violation.

The appeals court said the Air Force properly released information it was required to release and can’t be held accountable for Bryant’s actions.

Pierce was a program manager for the unit from 1996 to 2001, then served as a “counterdrug coordinator” before he went on medical leave and retired. Bryant, a 30-year military veteran, no longer serves in the Guard.