A judge’s May 2 ruling all but ordered the Fire and Police Commission to reinstate an officer who was fired last year, but because the federal court’s language didn’t explicitly say so, attorneys for the local commission are asking for clarification.
In a series of U.S. District Court filings Thursday, the three members of the Fire and Police Commission, who voted to terminate former sergeant Dan Harder in March 2007, said they want to be absolutely certain what is expected of them. Judge James B. Moran remanded the case back to the local body in his ruling and ordered the commission to impose a “sanction short of discharge.” Moran’s ruling came in response to Harder’s request that the court review the municipality’s decision.
“While this court did not formally reinstate the employee in its recent memorandum opinion and order, it is obvious that this court has, in fact, reinstated [Harder] via its order that the board must enter a disciplinary order ‘short of discharge,'” attorney Jason Rose stated on the commission’s behalf in a nine-page court filing.
Rose is employed in the law firm that has represented the Fire and Police Commission throughout the Harder case and assisted attorney Charles Hervas with the filings. According to Hervas the distinction is necessary for two reasons.
If the judge’s ruling is in fact an order to reinstate the dismissed officer, the commission has the right to an automatic appeal that would be heard by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, according to Hervas.
“What we really want is to see if the 7th Circuit agrees with Judge Moran,” Hervas said.
Secondly, the course of Harder’s pending lawsuit against the village could be dramatically altered by this ruling. Harder has claimed his civil rights were violated and that he was fired without good cause.
“If the court decides that sergeant Harder never should have been fired, that clearly has a significant impact on the case,” Hervas said. The same holds true, he said, if the appellate court ruled Harder’s firing was just.
A call to the municipality’s defense attorney in the civil case was not returned.
A request for comment left for Harder’s attorney in that case also went unanswered.
Though his earlier ruling upheld nine of the 10 reasons for which the commission fired Harder, Moran was critical of Police Chief Jim Ryan for seeking to strip the officer of his badge.
Ryan had accused Harder of swearing at a subordinate officer, abusing the department’s policy on sick time and of lying on several different occasions. According to Moran, there is no precedent within the Forest Park Police Department that suggests an officer has ever faced termination or even suspension for using course language.
One of the charges alleging Harder was dishonest centered on a June 10, 2005, phone call between Harder and Ryan during which Harder allegedly lied about his whereabouts after calling in sick for his shift. The federal judge found portions of the police chief’s testimony regarding the phone call to be “suspicious, at the very least.”