Judge Denies Injunction Filed By Fired Fort Worth Chief, City is Free to Hire - NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

Judge Denies Injunction Filed By Fired Fort Worth Chief, City is Free to Hire

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Judge Denies Fitzgerald, Fort Worth Can Hire New Chief

    After four days of testimony and arguments over fired Fort Worth police Joel Fitzgerald, a judge denied a temporary injunction that would've prevented city officials from hiring a permanent police chief to continue. (Published Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019)

    After four days of testimony and arguments over fired Fort Worth police chief Joel Fitzgerald, a Dallas judge denied a temporary injunction that would've prevented city officials from hiring a permanent police chief to continue.

    This means the city can now hire a permanent chief. 

    Carolyn McFatridge, a Senior Assistant City Attorney for Fort Worth, said the city does not have any immediate plans right now to hire a permanent chief, praising the work of interim Chief Ed Kraus. 

    However, McFatridge said they were both relieved and satisified with Judge Gena Slaughter's ruling.

    "The city manager needs to run the business and the court does not need to be in the middle of that," McFatridge said after the ruling.

    Attorneys for the city of Fort Worth and those representing Fitzgerald spent Thursday morning making their closing arguments.

    The hearing began on Monday, with Fitzgerald's attorneys arguing the injunction should remain in place while his wrongful termination lawsuit is pending.

    "There is no adequate remedy at law for Dr. Fitzgerald, because he is a public figure. He's not like an IT employee who – if he doesn't get reinstated – can get forward pay and move on. The only remedy available for him that's going to restore his reputation is reinstatement," attorney Stephen Kennedy said. "I would submit to you, your honor – the city of Fort Worth right now exists in the age of foolishness and in the epic of incredulity. The people need hope. The people need Dr. Fitzgerald."

    Fitzgerald claimed his firing was an act of retaliation and came after he began investigating and communicating with the FBI concerning the city's compliance issues with the Criminal Justice Information Services system, or CJIS. The federally maintained computer network is designed to share law enforcement information nationwide.

    A meeting was set up with the FBI on May 20, the same day Fitzgerald was fired.

    "They're sending a message to everybody at the city and believe me, the employees are hearing it loud and clear. If you say or do anything that we, Jay Chapa and David Cooke don't like – your job is on the line and you'll be out,” Kennedy said during closing arguments Thursday. "That's how the city of Fort Worth rules over its employees. It's our way or the highway."

    However, the city maintained they lost confidence in Fitzgerald's leadership – pointing to a series of missteps before his termination. On the stand during the hearing, assistant city manager Jay Chapa brought up budgeting issues as an example.

    The termination letter also cited an alleged dispute between Fitzgerald and Todd Harrison, president of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT). Fitzgerald allegedly confronted in a heated manner at a Washington event honoring fallen officers days before he was fired.

    The encounter was characterized during the hearing as 'embarrassing' for the city of Fort Worth and the police department by Manny Ramirez, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers’ Association, who testified he witnessed the encounter.

    Lynn Winter, assistant city attorney for Fort Worth, said the city never had knowledge of Fitzgerald's intentions of meeting with the FBI.

    "You heard testimony that city management didn't know that the FBI was in the hallway of Bob Bolen when they were at City Hall at a regularly scheduled 1:30 meeting with Joel Fitzgerald. They didn't look at his calendar to see if he had a meeting scheduled with the FBI. They didn't know he was about to make a report about a violation of law." Winter said Thursday. "What plaintiff is really asking the court to do by seeking this temporary injunction is to control the city's hiring practices."

    Though the ruling was not in Fitzgerald's favor, he said he does not count it as a total loss pointing to comments made by Slaughter who was critical of how the city handled his firing.

    The court is 'seriously concerned' about the conduct of city officials, Slaughter said.

    "I think the city has failed to document whether there were other problems with his performance and whether those discussions were done in a relevant time period. Waiting two years and then saying we’re relying on this to terminate someone is just not credible," she told the court. "I think this stinks, to be blunt honestly."

    Fitzgerald said he felt like he given a 'fair shot' this week.

    "It, in many ways, it verifies what I was thinking and legitimizes what I was thinking," he said, referring to Slaughter's criticism. "I think she took the time to look at what she thought happened and said 'Hey, it doesn’t meet all the prongs that it needs to meet' but what she saw she didn’t like. That’s a step in the right direction in the city of Fort Worth."

    In response to Slaughter's comments, McFatridge said this week's hearing was "an appreviated trial" and once Fitzgerald's lawsuit is tried before a jury, she does not believe the jury will share the same sentiments.

    "City management is constantly reviewing rules and analyzing whether we have the best processes in place for our place, and I’m certain the HR director will continue with that analysis," she said.

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