Bias Tainted Firing of Police Chief, Court Says

     (CN) – A former Delaware police chief may get his job back because the town council that voted to fire him should have recused one of its members accused of making threats when the chief said he could not hire the boyfriend of that councilman’s daughter, the Delaware Supreme Court ruled.

     “You’re F’ing done here,” Elsmere town councilmember John Jaremchuk allegedly told then-chief Liam Sullivan.
     Elsmere Mayor Deborah Norkavage and the six members of the Elsmere Town Council voted to remove Sullivan from office on Aug. 11, 2009, after 14 months on the job. They cited various grounds for removal including failure to follow policies and procedures, failure to maintain proper personnel and failure to follow council directions.
     At the public termination hearing, Norkavage rejected several of the chief’s motions, including one that sought permission to call the mayor and councilmembers as witnesses.
     She also denied his motion to recuse two council members who Sullivan said faced a conflict of interest.
     Sullivan testified that Jaremchuk had asked him to get his daughter’s boyfriend a job on the police force, but the boyfriend did not test as well as other candidates.
     When told that the boyfriend could not fill one of the two openings because he tested fourth, Jaremchuk allegedly became irate. Sullivan says the councilmember yelled: “You MF’ers, I knew you were going to do this. I asked you for a personal favor and you screw me like this. … [L]et me tell you something. You’re F’ing done here.”
     Soon thereafter, Sullivan said he received notice about his alleged “deficiencies.” After the council and mayor voted to fire him, the New Castle County Superior Court affirmed the decision.
     On June 17, however, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed the decision.
     “The prevailing perspective is that the bias of one member of a multi-member adjudicatory tribunal taints the entire tribunal’s decision and deprives the party subject to the tribunal’s judgment of due process,” Chief Justice Myron Steele wrote for five-member panel.
     “Because the panel’s failure to recuse a biased member could not be cured by the votes of the remaining panel members, the panel violated Sullivan’s due process rights,” he added.
     Sullivan is entitled to a new hearing without Jaremchuk’s participation, according to the ruling, which notes that Sullivan may not fare differently at the new hearing.
     “Nevertheless, absent evidence to the contrary, we presume that the next panel’s members will be aware of this opinion and will perform their duties with honesty and integrity,” he wrote.

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