Putnam County Circuit Court Judge Matt Headley agreed Wednesday to hear the case of the former Cloverdale Police chief who filed suit after being told he was being eliminated from the force effective March 1.
Former Police Chief Charlie Hallam has asked the court for a preliminary injunction to allow him to stay employed as a deputy marshal on the four-man department. The town council voted last November to remove Hallam as chief, an act which the officer, though he didn't think it was fair, is not contesting.
"This lawsuit is about a sham," Hallam's attorney Bill Harrington told the judge in explaining that he believes the town violated Indiana Code when it decided to remove Hallam from the force.
Harrington said the law requires a hearing before the town safety board in order to remove an officer from the force.
The town's attorney Allan Yackey denies this is what the law says. He told the BannerGraphic the town can remove an officer for any or no reason at all.
In his written response to the lawsuit, Yackey said Hallam's removal as a police officer was classified as a reduction in force, or RIF, due to financial constraints of the department, but Hallam's attorney said his client was never told this prior to a Jan. 29 meeting in which the current police Chief Don Pearson told Hallam he would be "terminated" as of March 1.
Judge Headley told Yackey that he would have to prove the decision to let Hallam go was done in "good faith," meaning the officer wasn't booted out simply for political reasons.
But Yackey told the judge he thinks it is Hallam's responsibility to prove the town council acted in "bad faith." He denied Hallam is being let go for political reasons.
"What needs to be done is what the town is doing," Yackey said. "It's not aimed at Charlie."
Hallam's attorney Harrington pointed to a "significant amount of animosity" between members of the town council and his client in telling the judge that he believes his case can easily be proven. Harrington said he plans to call as many as 15 witnesses in the case.
Both attorneys agreed the trial could take two days to complete. The judge set aside next Monday, part of Wednesday and all of Thursday for the trial.
In the end, Hallam could keep his job with the police department and obtain monetary compensation for his legal fees and other damage related to the case or the judge could rule that the town violated no laws and Hallam will cease to be a member of the police department on March 1.
With the exception of the current police chief, Hallam is the most senior officer on the Cloverdale Police Department.