Appeal from the Circuit Court of DuPage County; the Hon. BERT
E. RATHJE, Judge, presiding. Reversed.
This is an appeal by Roy Fantozzi, the plaintiff, from a judgment of the Circuit Court of DuPage County in a proceeding under the Administrative Review Act, which judgment affirmed a decision of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners of the Village of Villa Park discharging the plaintiff from the Police Force of that village.
The plaintiff-appellant was a police officer from October 14, 1955 until June 7, 1960, at which time he was suspended, pending the filing of charges. On May 23, 1960, Landon L. Chapman, an attorney for the plaintiff, had advised the Villa Park Police Department, by letter, that, on that date, a Petition in Bankruptcy had been filed in the U.S. District Court in Chicago by Mr. Fantozzi, and that a restraining order had been issued against Mr. Fantozzi's creditors. On June 4, 1960, William M. Holler, Chief of Police, addressed a letter to Gary McCullough, Secretary of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, advising that such Petition in Bankruptcy had been filed by Mr. Fantozzi and stating "In view of this fact, it is the opinion of the Police Committee that charges be preferred against Officer Fantozzi, and if proven, he be discharged from the department." On June 7, 1960, the plaintiff was advised by Oscar Melander, Chairman of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners that charges had been filed against him, and that a hearing would be held on June 16, 1960, the charges being preferred by Stanley B. Erlandson, Chairman of the Police Committee of the Board of Trustees of the Village, and reading as follows:
"The employee has failed to pay his debts or to make reasonable provision for paying them, to the annoyance of his superior officer or officers, and to the scandal of the service in such a way that it has affected his capacity and fitness to perform his duties."
A hearing was had, pursuant to notice, by the Board at which five witnesses testified, three witnesses, namely, William M. Holler, Chief of Police, Stanley B. Erlandson, Chairman of the Police-Fire Committee of the Board of Trustees of the Village, and Robert L. Hegel, the Village Manager, in behalf of the prosecution, and two witnesses, Roy Fantozzi, the present plaintiff, and Landon Chapman, his attorney in the bankruptcy proceeding, for the respondent, Fantozzi.
The decision of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners after the hearing, was, in its material parts, as follows:
"It is not the opinion of this Board that uncontrollable events such as illness represent a sufficiently large percentage of his indebtedness to warrant special consideration for this fact. It is not the intention of this Board to cause undue hardship for any individual. However, it is our responsibility to take such steps as are necessary to protect the moral fiber of the police department.
"It is not our opinion that voluntary bankruptcy connotes a feeling or condition of illegal procedure. But in this case the facts indicate that a financially unstable individual is now holding a position of public trust and responsibility. The retention of such an individual must necessarily place a social stigma on the department and consequently impair the reputation and efficiency of the department he is attempting to represent.
"The officer in a community of Villa Park's size is too easily identified with the police department and therefore impugns the very character of the entire department.
"Without proper forethought Officer Fantozzi did enter upon debts beyond his ability to discharge. All the circumstances before this committee indicate that his continuance on the force would have a harmful effect on the force, would tend to bring the department into disrepute and would be harmful to the Village.
"It is the decision of this Committee that Mr. Roy Fantozzi be discharged from the police department and he is now so discharged."
It is the contention of the plaintiff that the decision of the Board is illegal and void because it is not supported by any competent evidence showing cause for removal; the record affirmatively shows that the plaintiff paid his debts so far as he was able; there is no showing of any culpable conduct, inefficiency in service, or scandal to the service; and, contrary to the protestations of the defendants, the plaintiff was removed simply because he filed a petition in bankruptcy, an action not constituting cause for removal.
It is the theory of the defendants that there is nothing to justify reversing the judgment of the Circuit Court; the plaintiff's conduct indicates a total lack of financial understanding and responsibility; practically all his obligations were incurred in the year and half prior to his discharge, and during that time his conduct as a policeman deteriorated and the morale of other policemen was affected by the attitude of local merchants caused by the plaintiff's irresponsibility; the finding of the Board is supported by the evidence; and a complete lack of financial ...