POMONA (CBS) —The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a Southland water district official was constitutionally protected after he falsely claimed to have been awarded a military honor.

KNX 1070’s Mike Landa reports the court voted 6-3 to strike down the Stolen Valor Act, which was passed in 2005 and called for possible prison time for Xavier Alvarez, a former elected official in Pomona, and others who falsely claim to be a decorated war veteran.

Alvarez, an elected member of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District Board, made the false claims at a board meeting in 2007, when he said he was a retired Marine who had been “wounded many times” and had been awarded the Medal of Honor in 1987.

Alvarez had in fact never served in the armed forces.

He pleaded guilty to violating the Stolen Valor Act but claimed his false statements —including what his attorneys called any “exaggerated anecdotes, barroom braggadocio, and cocktail party puffery” — were constitutionally protected.

He was sentenced to three years probation, a $5,000 fine and community service. But an appeal filed by his attorneys was upheld by the 9th Circuit of Appeals, prompting the U.S. Justice Department to turn to the Supreme Court.

The Obama administration argued that military awards serve as public symbols of honor and prestige, conveying the nation’s gratitude for acts of valor, and foster morale.

But in a judgment written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court ordered that his conviction be thrown out and said the right to lie about medals is protected by the First Amendment.

The Three Valleys Municipal Water District, based in Claremont, serves cities in the Pomona Valley, Walnut Valley and eastern San Gabriel valleys.

(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)


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