DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A Dallas judge said she was seriously concerned with the conduct of City of Fort Worth officials leading to the firing of former police chief Joel Fitzgerald.
Judge Gena Slaughter, however, handed a victory to the city in Fitzgerald’s wrongful termination suit Thursday, declining his request for an injunction that would have prevented the city from filling the position on a permanent basis.
The ruling now clears the way for the city to allow Ed Kraus to continue as chief, on something more than an interim basis.
The city has done nothing in the six months since Fitzgerald was fired to identify any other candidates for the job.
Slaughter said in court she believes the lawsuit, will harm the city’s ability to hire any other candidates for the position.
While Slaughter ruled in the city’s favor in the injunction hearing, she was blunt in her assessment there was a lack of documentation of reasons for firing Fitzgerald in May of this year.
She said the timing of poor performance reviews, being delivered to Fitzgerald only after his relationship with city mangers was strained “smells.”
Speaking about city managers’ testimony they were unaware of relief provisions available to fired directors, Slaughter said “I think that stinks, to be bluntly honest.”
She also said the city failed to properly investigate a reported confrontation Fitzgerald had with union representatives in Washington D.C., one of the items the city cited when it terminated him.
Fitzgerald has maintained he was fired largely for being a whistleblower on the city’s failure to follow cyber security policy for the federal criminal justice information system.
Holding the chief’s job open however, she said, would do nothing to protect his reputation.
Fitzgerald said Slaughters comments legitimized what he was thinking when he started looking into issues in the city.
“What she saw she didn’t like,” he said. “And that’s a step in the right direction for the city of Fort Worth, that we’re able to uncover some of the things that aren’t going well, or aren’t being done correctly.”
While during testimony in the hearing, Fitzgerald said recovering his job was the only option to repair his reputation, Thursday he referred to that as “still an option.”
His suit does identify back pay and front pay as options in lieu of being reinstated.
Carolyn McFatridge, a city attorney who oversees employee matters downplayed Judge Slaughters comments, saying a jury would not be likely to agree with her conclusions in a full trial.
“The city manager needs to run the business,” she said. “And the court does not need to be in the middle of that. This will allow the city manager and the city council to run the business of the city and the police department in the way they see it is best for our citizens.”