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Piecuch v. Cook County Sheriff's Merit Board

February 08, 2000

WILLIAM PIECUCH, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE
v.
COOK COUNTY SHERIFF'S MERIT BOARD, JAMES P. NALLY, ARTHUR R. WADDY, PAULA M. DALEO, AND TERRENCE HAKE. DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 93 CH 9572 The Honorable Aaron Jaffe, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Cousins

On September 17, 1993, the Cook County Sheriff's Merit Board (the Board) ordered the discharge of Cook County sheriff's deputy William Piecuch for excessive absenteeism and job abandonment. Piecuch timely filed for administrative review, arguing that: (1) the Board did not have jurisdiction to hear the complaint against him since proceedings against him were not commenced within mandatory time limits set down by sections 3-7011 and 3-7012 of the Counties Code (the Code) (55 ILCS 5/3-7011, 3-7012 (West 1996)); (2) the Board's finding that there was cause for discharge was against the manifest weight of the evidence; and (3) the delays that he experienced before the commencement of proceedings and during their running had violated due process standards under the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution (U.S. Const., amend. XIV).

The circuit court reversed the Board's determination and ordered Piecuch reinstated. Although the circuit court based its ruling on the jurisdictional issue, it stated additionally that it thought the other two issues also each provided sufficient grounds for reversal. The Board appealed to this court.

BACKGROUND

In March 1987, Deputy Piecuch announced plans to run for Cook County sheriff against then-incumbent Sheriff O'Grady. Deputy Piecuch was soundly defeated in the primary election.

In the summer of 1987, Deputy Piecuch claims that two assistants to the sheriff ordered him to sell $1,000 in tickets to a fundraiser for Sheriff O'Grady, warning him that he would have to "eat," that is, buy with his own money, any that he did not sell within two weeks. Approximately two weeks later, Piecuch claims, they returned to find that he had only sold $100 worth of tickets. According to Piecuch, O'Grady's assistants then took the $100 and the unsold tickets and said "Oh that's the way it's going to be."

During this period Deputy Piecuch was working in the parking lot across the street from the courthouse at 26th and California. On September 15, 1987, a person awaiting trial escaped from the courthouse. Piecuch saw the man flee the building pursued by four or five deputies, who yelled for someone to stop the man. Deputy Piecuch left his post, joined in the pursuit and, he claims, captured the fugitive. At the hearing, Deputy Santos Perez, a rebuttal witness, claimed that he, not Piecuch, had been the one who apprehended the man. However, he did recall that Deputy Piecuch participated in the pursuit.

The next day, Piecuch recounts, his supervisor, Jose Cruz, commended him for his role in the capture. Two days later, however, Cruz told him that he was being transferred to a courthouse at Maywood. According to Piecuch, when he asked why, Cruz replied that it was because he had left his post in the parking lot without permission. Although Maywood was closer to Piecuch's home, he enjoyed his job at 26th and California and did not want to go elsewhere.

The sheriff introduced evidence before the Board that over 100 other deputies had been transferred at the same time as Piecuch. The sheriff maintains that the transfer was part of a general reorganization and had nothing to do with Piecuch individually.

Piecuch says that stress related to his job as a sheriff's deputy was having an adverse effect on his health. On September 21, 1987, the date that he was scheduled to start at Maywood, Piecuch called in sick and went to see a doctor. The doctor found Piecuch to be suffering from nausea, insomnia, headaches and other stress-related symptoms and recommended that he take off a week from work.

Piecuch called in sick each day at the same time. He used his last accumulated sick day on September 21 and his last personal day on September 22. On October 1, two deputies came to Piecuch's home to confiscate his credentials, i.e., his badge and department identification card. He told the deputies that he did not have his credentials there. The next day he went in to the personnel department and turned in the credentials. The parties agree that a uniformed deputy is not allowed to work without his or her badge and department identification.

The sheriff maintains that Piecuch's credentials were taken pursuant to general orders 3401 and 3405 of the court services department rules and regulations. Order 3401 states "no employee shall be absent without leave. Absence without leave shall mean either a failure to report for duty at the time and place of duty or leaving a place of duty or assignment without proper authorization." Order 3405 allows the court services department to retrieve credentials of an employee who is absent without leave for two days.

Piecuch says that he asked the personnel director, James Hogan, why his credentials were being taken. According to Piecuch, Mr. Hogan replied that the credentials were being impounded pending an investigation by internal affairs into his leaving his post in the parking lot without permission, and that it would no longer be necessary for him to call in at Maywood.

Piecuch testified that he nevertheless called in as usual for the next few days. Chief Angelyn Parilli then instructed June Ferguson, the deputy who had been taking Piecuch's calls, to tell him to stop calling in. Piecuch alleges that they told him to stop calling because he was no longer on the time sheets at Maywood.

At this time Piecuch was also working full-time as a postal employee. He continued to work at the post office during the period when he called in sick and afterwards.

Piecuch alleges that he continually tried to contact Mr. Hogan in order to try to get his credentials back, but that Mr. Hogan would not see him or take his calls. Piecuch says that he made about 65 calls and about 5 trips to the personnel office. Mr. Hogan did not testify at the hearing. However, Louise Terlep, assistant personnel director, testified that she ...


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