Pinal County Superior Court Judge Gilberto Figueroa ruled Tuesday to uphold his original order to send former Maricopa Police Sgt. Aki Stant’s dismissal case back to the city’s Merit Board for reconsideration on whether Stant’s due process rights were violated.
“We are certainly happy with the court’s decision but we have more work to do,” said James Cool, Stant’s attorney.
Cool said he hopes to work out a resolution with the city. But if the city is not interested, the case will go back to the Merit Board, which is comprised of three citizens appointed by the city council to make recommendations to the city manager when employees appeal terminations or disciplinary actions.
City Attorney Denis Fitzgibbons did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment.
Stant was fired by the police department in June 2010 for failing to answer questions during an internal investigation. His termination was upheld by the Merit Board and then-City Manager Kevin Evans.
Figueroa ruled in February the city may have violated Stant’s right under state statute to have representation during interviews with Internal Affairs Investigator Mike Burns, and his termination should be remanded to the Merit Board to resolve that issue before the court can proceed with his wrongful termination lawsuit.
In late April, the city made a motion for the court to reconsider its February ruling, stating that Stant’s rights were never violated and the action to fire him was done in good faith.
Stant and his attorney claim during a second interview with Burns, Stant was not made aware that his job was at stake or given the opportunity to have legal representation. Stant was being questioned on the actions of one of his subordinates, Officer Elliot Sneezy, who was being investigated for sending an email while off duty to members of the city council questioning the police department’s lack of an investigation into another officer.
Cool said if the Merit Board finds the city’s evidence to terminate Stant was improperly obtained, state statute provides that Stant could have his job reinstated with back pay.
“He has been out of work since May of 2010 so that would be $150,000 plus benefits,” Cool said.
He said Stant is not working now but is attending school.
Cool said Stant’s $1.5 million wrongful termination suit against the city is still viable as a practical matter.
A favorable outcome with the Merit Board could strengthen Stant’s civil case, Cool said, though it might reduce the amount of the damages he is requesting if he gets his job back with back pay.