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Judge rules MJ did no wrong
Jun 05, 2006 12:00 am
May 27, 2006 – A lawsuit brought against the City of Mt. Juliet by a former MJPD dispatcher has been dismissed by U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger, who granted the city's motion for summary judgment earlier this week.
In the suit, former MJPD dispatcher William Guthoerl maintained his Dec. 1, 2004, termination was the result of his cooperation with an investigation into an out-of-state arrest warrant which was never served on a high-ranking city officials' friend.
Attorneys for Guthoerl contended his firing was unlawful and his civil rights were violated "because (he) refused to remain silent about possible criminal activities and because (he) communicated with an elected public official regarding those possible criminal activities."
Guthoerl claimed Mt. Juliet City Manager Robert Shearer's friendship with a man sought by Wyoming authorities in 2004 for practicing dentistry without a license allowed the man – Michael Richardson – to avoid arrest and surrender to authorities instead.
Shearer along with fellow defendant and former MJPD Chief Kenneth Martin strongly maintained no preferential treatment was shown in the case.
An investigation later launched by District Attorney General Tommy Thompson's office determined Shearer's actions were not criminal and Richardson was not a flight risk. Shearer informed Richardson of the warrant, the investigation found, "for the purpose of making arrangements for him (Richardson) to surrender himself directly to the Wyoming authorities."
After being terminated in December 2004, Guthoerl filed the suit, alleging his firing was "retaliatory" in nature and violated his First Amendment rights.
Granting city officials' motion for summary judgment in a May 22 ruling, Trauger dismissed Guthoerl's arguments.
"As the plaintiff (Guthoerl) himself has admitted, it was not illegal for defendant Shearer to have told Richardson about the warrant; in fact, it is common practice for police officers to advise a person of the existence of an outstanding arrest warrant," Trauger wrote in the ruling. "The plaintiff maintains that it was not customary for defendants Martin or Shearer to involve themselves in the service of a warrant, but he does not argue, nor can he, that doing so violated" state law or the Tennessee Public Protection Act.
Trauger also dismissed Guthoerl's claim that the city violated his right to communicate with Joe Jones, an investigator with Thompson's office, under the Public Employee Political Freedom Act.
"The plaintiff here has provided no evidence indicating that he was fired in retaliation for speaking with Joe Jones … The parties agree that defendant Shearer cooperated fully with the investigation and that Jones interviewed several department employees in addition to the plaintiff," Trauger said. "The plaintiff does not allege that he was ever discouraged from meeting with Jones, nor does he allege that any other employees were discouraged from meeting with Jones.
" … The plaintiff has proffered no evidence that he was fired for speaking with Jones, aside from his own belief that he was fired for that reason. That belief is not enough."
As for Guthoerl's claim that his termination deprived him of his right to free speech under the First Amendment, Trauger – citing precedents established in other courts – again rejected the argument that the dispatcher's termination was retaliatory.
According to Nashville attorney Robert Burns, who represented the City of Mt. Juliet, Guthoerl "has 30 days from May 22" to file a notice of appeal in the case.
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.