The case had dragged on for five years before a state appeals court sent it into mediation.
By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU
SHARPSVILLE, Pa. -- A South Pymatuning Township supervisor said the decision to settle a legal battle with a former township police officer came down to a matter of dollars and cents.
The township opted to pay $60,000 to James Flaherty, 67, to end the case. The alternative was to face the potential loss of more than $100,000 had the township continued to fight the matter and lost, said Supervisor Burt DeVries.
The latter figure would have included back pay, interest and other costs.
The township didn't win, but it didn't lose, either, he said.
Fired: The township fired Flaherty, who was a captain at the time, in May 1996 for conduct unbecoming an officer.
He was let go after he admitted taking a .22-caliber rifle from the police evidence locker, repairing it and then keeping it at his gun repair shop for two years, according to the township.
Flaherty, who had founded the township's police department 26 years earlier, appealed the dismissal to Mercer County Common Pleas Court, and Judge Michael Wherry ruled in June 1999 that there was insufficient cause to warrant the termination.
He sent the case back to the supervisors for reconsideration, but they again voted to fire Flaherty in June 2000, maintaining his actions had damaged morale in the police department and damaged the image of police officers in the eyes of the public.
Flaherty appealed again and Judge Wherry again ruled in his favor, suggesting that a 90-day suspension would be the more appropriate penalty.
Sent to mediation: This time, the township appealed Judge Wherry's ruling to Commonwealth Court, but the appeals court directed the two sides to enter into mediation in an effort to resolve the case.
That resulted in the $60,000 settlement, DeVries said.
The township had half of the money in hand when the settlement was finalized in late 2001, he said, explaining that supervisors had started a reserve fund when Wherry ruled against them the second time.
That money was paid to Flaherty at the first of the year, DeVries said, adding that additional payments of $15,000 will be made in May of this year and $15,000 more in May 2003 to complete the deal.
Those payments will carry 4 percent interest, he said, adding that the money will have to come from the township's general fund budget.