By Brian Messenger | Eagle-Tribune
A judge yesterday heard two starkly different takes on the state Civil Service Commission decision that cleared Joseph Solomon’s return as Methuen police chief in 2010.
A lawyer for Solomon argued the decision to reduce his firing to a one-year suspension without pay is “bulletproof” and dismissed the city’s appeal as a waste of time.
But City Solicitor Peter McQuillan said the commission “simply missed the boat,” and asked Lawrence Superior Court Judge Robert Cornetta to overturn the decision and reinstate Solomon’s firing. “There are significant mistakes and omissions here,” McQuillan argued.
Cornetta took the case under advisement. McQuillan and Andrew Gambaccini, Solomon’s lawyer, said the judge will provide a written decision at an undetermined date.
Former Mayor William Manzi fired Solomon in May 2008, claiming Solomon verbally abused officers, misspent grant money and broke state law by using taxpayer money to buy marine equipment from his sister and brother-in-law. Solomon appealed to Civil Service, and the commission determined the city failed to prove its case, allowing Solomon to return to his job in October 2010. McQuillan appealed the decision in Lawrence Superior Court that August.
The Civil Service case is one of three ongoing legal disputes between the city and Solomon. Mayor Stephen Zanni said this week that settlement talks to end all three are ongoing.
In its appeal, the city claims the Civil Service Commission was in excess of its authority when it reduced Solomon’s firing to a suspension. The appeal also claims the commission’s decision was “based upon an error of law” and not supported by substantial evidence.
McQuillan appeared yesterday with attorney David Grunebaum, a private labor lawyer hired by the city for the case. McQuillan argued that Manzi did not fire Solomon for political reasons, but rather for mismanaging two public safety grants that ultimately cost the city $200,000.
McQuillan said a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the grants was among the evidence “disregarded” by the commission before it made a decision on Solomon’s firing.
“They have to account for all the credible evidence on the record and they did not do that,” said McQuillan.
Gambaccini began his argument by recalling his previous statement in a court document that the city’s appeal was “dead on arrival.” “There has been nothing to change that,” he said.
Gambaccini told Cornetta that Solomon’s one-year suspension was “unduly harsh,” but said the chief decided against appealing the decision because it was “bulletproof.”
“It’s bulletproof from a challenge from us and it’s bulletproof from a challenge from the city,” said Gambaccini.
Outside the courtroom, Gambaccini said the case has been drawn out long enough.
“From the beginning it’s been a waste of everyone’s time,” said Gambaccini. “There’s simply no basis to challenge the commission’s decision.”
Representing the Civil Service Commission yesterday was Assistant Attorney General Julie Goldman.