St. Clair County Circuit Judge Stephen McGlynn signed a temporary restraining order on March 4, to keep Caseyville mayor Leonard Black from firing police chief Jose Alvarez.
McGlynn held a hearing and issued the order without notice to Black or the village.
“Petitioner demonstrates effort may be made this day to terminate his employment effective immediately which would cause disruption in the police department of the village,” he wrote.
McGlynn set a hearing for both sides on Friday, March 7, and wrote that the temporary order would expire at 4 p.m. on that day.
He wrote that Alvarez showed a need to protect his rights under his contract with the city, his right to earn a living, and his constitutional right to due process.
Black fired Alvarez on Feb. 12, but village trustees reinstated him a week later.
On March 4, with the village fire and police board set to meet in the evening, Alvarez filed a breach of contract suit and moved for a temporary restraining order.
Alvarez and his lawyers, Robert Jones of Belleville and Grey Chatham Jr., of Swansea, appeared before McGlynn at 1 p.m.
Jones said he believed village attorney John Gilbert would be disqualified from the case because he would be a witness in it.
McGlynn read from the contract that the chief serves at the will of the mayor.
He read that either party can terminate the contract with 30 days notice.
“Am I empowered to say no, he gets to serve as chief?” McGlynn said.
Jones said Alvarez received no written notice.
Village trustees wanted Alvarez to continue, Jones said. He asked for an order to be in force at least until McGlynn hears the merits. He said the first paragraph of the contract is void and Black lacked authority to sign it.
“I can only go with what is in your pleadings,” he said.
McGlynn gave them a 90 minute recess to amend the motion and prepare an affidavit.
When the hearing resumed, Jones said state law requires filing of charges, a hearing, and a finding of improper conduct.
He said none of these had been complied with.
He said the contract pays $70,000.
“We believe he will be terminated tonight,” Jones said.
He asked McGlynn to protect Alvarez from substantial and irreparable harm.
He said the contract states that the chief serves at the will of the mayor, but the village code clearly includes the trustees.
“Does the affidavit say that? I can’t take your word for it.”
Jones said it did.
“I’m going to find that there is a likelihood …," McGlynn said. He paused and added, “That there is a fair question as to the rights of the chief and whether the effort to terminate him follows state law.”
McGynn said announcing a termination that night would cause disruption in the police department.
He set a hearing three days later and said, “We will get to the bottom of this.”
“It is not my role to interfere with the legitimate activities of the mayor and the trustees.
“I think it’s a close call to enter an order without notice, but at a minimum this action would create confusion on whether he is chief.”
He said any burden on the village was outweighed by the disruption.
Chatham said, “Will testimony be allowed?”
McGlynn said yes, and he told Jones to call Gilbert.
The fire and police board didn’t terminate Alvarez that night.
The next night, March 5, about 80 people turned out for a meeting of trustees.
Black said he couldn’t comment on litigation or personnel.
He said he retained Van-Lear Eckert, a Belleville lawyer, for personal representation.
“I wanted a chief from outside and I probably still do,” Black said.
Alvarez stepped to the podium and recommended setting up a dispatch office instead of contracting with Centcom at $14 a call.
He said Centcom fails to provide adequate information and makes horrendous mistakes.
“I’m ready to pull the switch,” he said.
Then he fought for his job.
“I was given a little over three months to correct things that happened over 10 years,” he said.
Voices softly backed him up, and he ran down his resume.
“I have the administrative skills necessary to provide these people with the best,” and many applauded.