Legal victory for Sheriff Garcia

January 16, 2009 4:12:18 PM PST
The new Harris County sheriff, Adrian Garcia, won a small battle Friday in his legal fight with former employees who say they were wrongly terminated. It's a story we've been following closely since the new sheriff was hit with the lawsuit shortly after taking office. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Sheriff Garcia spent much of Friday morning in a courtroom, defending his decision to fire two members of the former sheriff's command staff. Kim Stelter and Jule Brownfield lost their jobs as majors the day Garcia took office.

He says doesn't have to keep them on staff. Their lawsuit contends he does, but as the lesser rank of captain, a job typically protected through civil service. On Friday, the judge sided with Garcia.

"I concur with the judge's ruling that I am the sheriff, that I appoint people and I have the right to terminate their employment at any time," said Garcia.

The judge ruled Friday that Garcia can fill any captains' positions without waiting for the resolution of the suit and that the plaintiffs didn't prove to her that they are owed captains' jobs through the civil service code.

Still, they aren't deterred.

"It's been tough," said Brownfield. "The up and down, being forced to retire when you think you have a right be reinstated. It is a tough time."

"I can be patient, but I prefer the sooner the relief comes, the better in many terms," said Stelter. "Just to get back to work doing what i enjoy, providing for my son."

"We're gonna appeal to civil service," said Michael Fleming, who is representing the plaintiffs. "And I'm certain that civil service is going to put these people back to work."

Both former employees say the surprise firings left them financially devastated, a situation the new sheriff says he understands, despite his decision to let them go.

"It's difficult and I wish them the best," said Garcia. "I thank them for the services that they gave the citizens of Harris County and I wish them all the best into the future. This is a difficult decision."

The next step is a hearing before the civil service board, in which the two former majors will fight for jobs they say they should be guaranteed. There's no date yet, though it'll likely happen within the next month.

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