A U.S. District Court judge denied four deputies' request yesterday for a temporary restraining order that would have prohibited Arlington Sheriff James A. Gondles Jr. from demoting or firing them because they criticized him during the recent election.
Judge James C. Cacheris said allegations in an affidavit by Chief Deputy Thomas Faust had "tipped the scales" in his decision.
In his statement, Faust said deputies had complained that the four employes who filed suit held meetings after the election where they made "statements asserting dissatisfaction" with the sheriff's reelection and with employes who supported Gondles during the campaign.
Faust said he had been told that the meetings took place during work hours and were "disruptive of the atmosphere and morale of the sheriff's office."
Gondles, a Democrat, was reelected to a third term in November after a heated campaign against Republican-backed independent Ronald B. Hager. Hager left his post last year as Gondles' chief deputy to run against his former boss.
On Monday Gondles gave an ultimatum to nine of 21 deputies who had supported Hager and signed published statements critical of Gondles. Citing a lack of confidence in them, Gondles told the deputies to choose between being fired and being demoted to the department's lowest rank without loss of pay.
Five of the deputies agreed to the demotion by the Wednesday evening deadline. The others refused the demotion and filed a suit asking the court to bar the sheriff from demoting or firing them. They also sought $1.4 million in damages for "violation of their constitutional rights" of free speech.
After the court decision yesterday, Gondles offered the four an opportunity to reconsider his offer of a demotion. All four agreed but stated that they did so under protest, subject to the outcome of the suit, said Jonathan S. Gelber, one of their attorneys.
"To not win one is not a defeat," Gelber said after the hearing. "It's the first round."
Gondles was unavailable for comment. His attorney, William D. Dolan, said the decision "reflects the balance that has to be struck between the need for order and the sensitivity to expression. For now, it permits the sheriff's department to continue to operate effectively while not damaging these individual employes until they have their day in court."
A hearing for a preliminary injunction, the next step in the case, is set for Jan. 13. The deputies who filed suit are Margaret Ann Pierson, Richard Charles Tanner, Robin Faye Whitmore and Sean Eldon Whitmore.