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Don't Call It a Comeback

Back and better than ever: Terrell Bolton now gets to say he made a federal case of his firing. How awesome is that?

Terrell Bolton's already gotten some $1.8 million from the city in retirement benefits. Yesterday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said, Ya know, maybe we oughta to let one of the worst police chiefs in recent memory get some more money out of the city. Bolton's been gone for three years, but we haven't heard the last of him. Turns out he gets to take his wrongful-termination lawsuit to federal court after all, as the court ruled that the city shouldn't have fired Bolton but, instead, demoted him back to sergeant. Circuit Judge Jerry E. Smith agrees with Bolton's suit, which argues that the city charter allows for that very option.

You can read the entirety of Smith's five-page ruling here -- and what else you gotta do this morning, c'mon -- but here are the key paragraphs, the ones that are going to drive Mayor Laura Miller nuts for months:

Even if we were to look beyond the plain language, this interpretation makes sense. The chief of police is a political position, and a chief might be removed for any number of reasons beyond his control. Through this charter provision, Dallas is ensuring officers with considerable length of service that accepting an unstable job will not force them to forfeit their long tenure within the DPD. It reflects a balance between the cty's interest in attracting high quality applicants and its interest in ensuring effective oversight of the officers who fill executive positions.

The city responds by claiming that the two grounds for removal in the charter -- "unfitness for duty" and "for cause justifying dismissal" -- do not exhaust the field of possible reasons for removal of an executive officer. Although admitting that Bolton was not removed for cause, the city alleges that he was discharged because his continued presence would be "disruptive" rather than because he was unfit for duty, a reason for removal that would not trigger � 5. We do not ascribe the same talismanic significance to "unfitness for duty." The language that creates a property interest is "not for any cause justifying dismissal." If a chief promoted from within the ranks is not removed for cause, by the plain language of the charter he must be restored to his previous position.

When last we heard from Bolton, he was being considered for the chief's job in Dekalb County, Georgia. (You gotta go to their Web site; it has its own soundtrack, no kidding.) But when Unfair Park called there this morning, an assistant in Interim Chief Nicholas Marinelli's office said "no one has been appointed yet." A decision had been expected last month, but Unfair Park was told this morning that no new deadline's been set. Maybe this ruling hurts Bolton's chances now; after all, who wants a sergeant when you could have had a former chief? --Robert Wilonsky

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