Judge backs order on rehiring

Published March 24, 2007

CLEARWATER - In the second legal blow to the city of Clearwater this month, a state judge Friday refused to set aside a federal arbitrator's order that the city rehire a paramedic fired in 2005.

Trevor Murray and a lower-ranking colleague were fired in May 2005, roughly two months after failing to respond to a 911 call of a reported rape from a chronic caller. Police, who did respond, took the woman for a mental evaluation.

In Friday's order, Sixth Judicial Circuit Judge W. Douglas Baird said the city "failed to establish any valid grounds for vacating an arbitration award."

Clearwater now has 30 days to appeal Baird's decision to the Second District Court of Appeals. But that appeared unlikely Friday.

Bill Horne, Clearwater's manager, said he's not expecting to recommend to the council that the decision be appealed.

Council member John Doran, who voted in December to challenge the arbitrator's ruling, said the matter may have run its course.

"I would be reluctant at this point, absent any further information, to take this any further," Doran said."

Murray said he is ready to get his job back.

"This decision really makes my vision a little clearer for the future," Murray said. "I would like to return to work. I want my job back. I want to sit down at the table and see how we can make that happen."

Federal arbitrator Martin O. Holland in September ordered that the city rehire Murray into a similar job, give him back pay and help him get his paramedic's certification reinstated.

Holland, in a 35-page ruling, faulted the city's Human Resources Department, saying it didn't conduct its own investigation of the incident, nor did the department's director, Joe Roseto, view all the evidence before firing Murray. He also chastised fire Chief Jamie Greer, saying he apparently withheld a report from human resources officials that didn't support firing Murray.

The city council voted in December to challenge that decision in circuit court. The city argued Holland exceeded the authority given to him under the city's contract with the firefighters union. The city also claimed that Holland "included an unwarranted and unfounded attack" on Greer and Roseto.

This is the second decision the firefighters union has won against the city in eight days. On March 16, another federal arbitrator ordered the city to rehire fire inspector Duanne Anderson with back pay and no loss in seniority, minus a 60-day suspension. The arbitrator's reason: Anderson was denied due process before being fired.

In addition, another arbitrator in October ordered the city to rehire paramedic Mike Jones, who was fired with Murray in connection with the 911 call.

The city accepted the arbitrator's ruling in the Jones case, though the two parties have not worked out how he will return to work.

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at dalee@sptimes.com or 445-4174.