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Judge upholds deputy's reinstatement



Published: Thu, June 21, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- The brother of Phil Chance, imprisoned former Mahoning County sheriff, has won another round in his effort to get back his job with the sheriff's department.

In a decision handed down Wednesday, Judge Maureen A. Cronin upheld an arbitrator's ruling that Jeff Chance was improperly fired from the department two years ago and ordered him reinstated.

"While reasonable minds may disagree as to whether reinstatement or discharge was the more appropriate remedy, both [sides] agreed to let the arbitrator make the determination," Judge Cronin said in her ruling.

She said any mention of dishonesty must be removed from Chance's personnel file.

Fired in 1999: Chance, 47, of Canfield, was a sheriff's department corporal when Sheriff Randall Wellington fired him in October 1999. He had pleaded guilty in July 1999 to two misdemeanor counts of falsification, amended from obstructing justice.

The charges were related to misrepresentation of drug cases in municipal court.

Chance was placed on probation for two years and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service.

He appealed his firing, saying it violated terms of the department's collective bargaining agreement.

An arbitrator agreed with Chance in May 2000, and said the proper punishment should have been a 30-day suspension and a possible reduction in rank. He is due all his back pay, minus whatever amount of money he's made at other jobs since being fired by the sheriff.

His reinstatement has been on hold pending the county's appeal to Judge Cronin. Chance could not be reached to comment.

Wellington had not seen the judge's ruling and said he'll consult with Prosecutor Paul Gains before deciding whether to appeal.

Prosecutor's statement: Gains also had not seen the ruling, but said he'll review it with Wellington as soon as possible. He did not hold out much hope of keeping Chance from coming back.

"We can't change what's occurred," Gains said. "If the judge's opinion is well-founded, then we're going to follow it."

Gains said the situation could have been avoided if Chance's resignation had been included in terms of his plea agreement with a special prosecutor. Gains' office was not involved in the firing or the plea agreement.

Wellington said he's not sure what effect Chance's return would have on morale at the department.

"That's to be determined when he comes back," he said.

Chance's brother, Phil, is serving a 71-month sentence in a federal prison in Michigan. A jury convicted him in July 1999 of racketeering charges.

Other reinstated deputies: Jeff Chance is the third deputy fired by Wellington who has won his job back through appeals. Carmen Costantino, fired at the same time as Chance, was ordered back last summer. He had pleaded guilty in July 1999 to attempted falsification, reduced from tampering with evidence, related to a bogus drug-buy receipt submitted to a state auditor and then withdrawn.

Antonio Owens, fired in September 1999, had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of falsification for passing off flour as cocaine and showing it to the press.

Both Costantino and Owens are back to work with the department.

bjackson@vindy.com




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