Court Appeal Seeks To Reinstate Lysaght As Police Chief
Court Appeal Seeks To Reinstate Lysaght As Police Chief
By Andrew Gorosko
In a memorandum to Judge Dale Radcliffe, attorney John Kelly, representing former Newtown police chief James E. Lysaght, Jr, argues that the judge should thoroughly review the record of Mr Lysaghtâs termination hearing, and then, based on the evidence, should reverse an arbitratorâs finding that the Police Commission had âjust causeâ to fire Mr Lysaght as police chief.
Â Mr Kelly filed the memorandum of law July 31 in Danbury Superior Court in support of Mr Lysaghtâs court appeal of his March 3 firing by the Police Commission. Through that lawsuit, Mr Lysaght is seeking to be reinstated as police chief.
In firing Mr Lysaght, Police Commission members decided that he did not demonstrate the leadership, planning, and management skills necessary for the effective and efficient operation of the police department.
In the memorandum, Mr Kelly writes, âTaking the record as a whole, the arbitratorâs finding that the plaintiff was a âcompetentâ police chief who had some managerial defects cannot be equated with just cause [to terminate Mr Lysaght].â âThis court should reverse the arbitratorâs finding of just cause,â Mr Kelly adds.
In his report, Albert Murphy, the arbitrator, wrote that Mr Lysaght was a competent police officer, but that there were defects in his ability to manage and administer. Mr Murphy faulted Mr Lysaght for not delegating more of his authority, adding that Mr Lysaght had chafed under the strictures of civilian control.
Mr Lysaght began work as Newtownâs police chief in July 1996, replacing former chief Michael DeJoseph, who had retired from the police department.
Following an initial positive job performance review in early 1997, Mr Lysaght received three increasingly negative job reviews from the Police Commission, which found fault with his performance as police chief.
In July 1999, the Police Commission placed Mr Lysaght on paid administrative leave as it began termination proceedings against him. In August 1999, the commission issued Mr Lysaght a notice of grounds for dismissal. In September 1999, the commission and Mr Lysaght agreed to have an arbitrator conduct Mr Lysaghtâs termination hearing, stipulating that the arbitrator would make findings of fact and recommendations. The commission would be bound by the findings of fact, but not bound by the recommendations.
Four days of termination hearings were held in December 1999. In his February 2000 report, Mr Murphy found that âjust causeâ existed to terminate Mr Lysaght concerning some, but not all ten, of the allegations lodged against him in the notice of grounds for dismissal. Although Mr Murphy reluctantly concluded that there was just cause to fire the chief, he strongly recommended that he be kept on as chief and that the commission and chief resolve their differences.
In March 2000, following a brief meeting, the commission unanimously voted to fire Mr Lysaght based on the arbitratorâs findings of fact.
In the memorandum, Mr Kelly raises two basic issues about Mr Lysaghtâs termination.
Mr Kelly asks whether the arbitrator acted arbitrarily and in abuse of his discretion when he concluded that just cause existed for Mr Lysaghtâs termination.
Mr Kelly also asks whether the Police Commission acted arbitrarily when it accepted the arbitratorâs findings of fact without providing Mr Lysaght with an opportunity to address such findings, which Mr Kelly maintains failed to establish just cause for termination.
Of Mr Lysaghtâs court appeal through which he seeks to be reinstated as police chief, Mr Kelly writes, âThis is not the typical case of limited judicial review of an arbitratorâs award.â
Mr Kelly notes that the Police Commission had excused itself from conducting the termination hearing as a result of Mr Lysaghtâs motion to disqualify the commission from doing so, because each commission member had been subpoenaed as a witness in the case by Mr Lysaght.
âUnlike the typical [narrow] arbitratorâs award, this courtâs review of the record is not limited. The court must conduct a [broader] âde novoâ review, including errors of law,â according to Mr Kelly.
The court must examine the entire record of the termination hearings held by the arbitrator and decide whether the Police Commission proved there was substantial evidence justifying the police chiefâs termination, Mr Kelly writes.
Mr Kelly maintains that the arbitratorâs findings of fact failed to establish âjust causeâ to terminate Mr Lysaght.
In the pending lawsuit, Mr Lysaght seeks back pay and fringe benefits, retroactive to his March 3 firing, plus interest. He also seeks to have the town assume costs, plus his attorneyâs fees, stemming from his termination hearing and his court appeal.
In his court appeal, Mr Lysaght alleges that in terminating him, the Police Commission acted illegally because it:
â¢ Failed to provide him with an opportunity to address an arbitratorâs findings of fact and recommendations, before voting to fire him.
â¢ Failed to address the arbitratorâs recommendation that an attempt be made between the Police Commission and Mr Lysaght to re-establish a relationship leading to his reinstatement as chief, before voting to terminate him.
â¢ Accepted the arbitratorâs findings of fact, which failed to establish âjust causeâ for his termination under applicable state law.
The arbitratorâs findings that Mr Lysaght: had defects in his ability to manage and administer the police department; did not sufficiently delegate authority; and was insubordinate on one occasion, do not collectively satisfy the âjust causeâ standard, according to the lawsuit.
The town is scheduled to file a response to Mr Kellyâs memorandum of law by August 14.