CYNTHIA A. ROBBINS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE POLICE MERIT BOARD; THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE POLICE; and HIRAM GRAU, as Successor to Larry Trent, in His Capacity as Director of State Police, Defendants-Appellants
Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County. No. 09MR359. Honorable Peter C. Cavanagh, Judge Presiding.
In proceedings on a complaint filed by the Director of the Department of State Police seeking plaintiff's discharge based on her alleged multiple violations of the Illinois State Police Rules of Conduct, the trial court's orders on remand directing the Illinois State Police Merit Board to impose discipline less than discharge and the Board's final order suspending plaintiff for 180 days were vacated by the appellate court and the Board's original order discharging plaintiff was reinstated and affirmed, since the discharge order was not arbitrary, unreasonable, or unrelated to the needs of the Department of State Police, and the trial court acted improperly in substituting its judgment for that of the Board.
Lisa Madigan, Attorney General, of Chicago (Michael A. Scodro, Solicitor General, and Timothy M. Maggio (argued), Assistant Attorney General, of counsel), for appellants.
James P. Baker (argued), of Baker, Baker & Krajewski, LLC, of Springfield, for appellee.
JUSTICE POPE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Appleton and Justice Holder White concurred in the judgment and opinion.
[¶1] In June 2008, the Director of the Department of State Police, commonly referred to as the Illinois State Police (ISP), filed a complaint with the ISP Merit Board (Merit Board or Board) seeking the termination of plaintiff, Cynthia A. Robbins, based on allegations she committed 11 violations of the Illinois State Police Rules of Conduct (Rules). Following a hearing, the hearing officer found Robbins committed 8 of the 11 alleged violations. In April 2009, the Merit Board unanimously adopted the findings and conclusions of the hearing officer and determined Robbins should be discharged from employment with the ISP. Robbins appealed the Merit Board's decision and the circuit court reversed and remanded the Board's discharge decision three times. On the final remand, the circuit court instructed the Merit Board it " shall not discharge Robbins from ISP employment, but shall instead impose a lesser form of discipline." In June 2012, the Merit Board issued its fourth and final order, suspending Robbins for 180 days. In December 2012, the circuit court affirmed.
[¶2] Defendants appeal, asserting the following: (1) the Merit Board's findings Robbins committed eight violations of ISP rules were not against the manifest weight
of the evidence; and (2) the Board acted reasonably in discharging Robbins.
[¶3] We vacate the December 13, 2012, order of the circuit court, reverse the March 12, 2010, May 2, 2011, and May 14, 2012, orders of the circuit court, and reinstate and affirm the Merit Board's April 2009 order discharging Robbins for cause.
[¶4] I. BACKGROUND
[¶5] A. ISP Complaint
[¶6] In June 2008, the Director of the ISP filed a complaint with the Merit Board alleging plaintiff, Cynthia A. Robbins, committed 11 violations of the ISP's Rules. The alleged violations included (1) identity theft (720 ILCS 5/16G-15(a)(7) (West 2006)) in violation of Rule 1 (count I); (2) official misconduct (720 ILCS 5/33-3(b) (West 2006)) in violation of Rule 1 (count II); (3) giving untruthful responses to ISP investigators in violation of Rule 41.c (count III); (4) battery (720 ILCS 5/12-3(a)(2) (West 2006)) in violation of Rule 1 (count IV); (5) criminal damage to property (720 ILCS 5/21-1(1)(a) (West 2006)) in violation of Rule 1 (count V); (6) harassment by telephone (720 ILCS 135/1-1(2), (3) (West 2006)) in violation of Rule 1 (count VI); (7) causing the ISP to be brought into disrepute in violation of Rule 8 (count VII); (8) conducting an unauthorized investigation in violation of Rule 30 (count VIII); (9) improper use of ISP equipment in violation of Rule 38 (count IX); (10) improper use of a squad car in violation of Rule 38 (count X); and (11) conduct unbecoming an officer in violation of Rule 7 (count XI).
[¶7] B. Evidence Introduced at the Hearing Before the Merit Board
[¶8] Over the course of five days in November and December 2008, a hearing officer conducted proceedings. The following relevant evidence was produced during those proceedings.
[¶9] In April 1999, Robbins began her career as a commissioned officer of the ISP, first working as an Illinois State Trooper and later as a special agent. For approximately 14 years, Robbins was in an intimate relationship with Carlo Jiannoni, a retired ISP lieutenant. This relationship had its " ups and downs," and at times Robbins and Jiannoni would separate for a period of time and not see each other, although they continued to communicate by telephone. During the summer of 2006, their relationship was strained and they stopped seeing each other, although they continued speaking by telephone every couple of days.
[¶10] In November 2006, Robbins became concerned when Jiannoni failed to return her telephone calls. She had a key to Jiannoni's home so she went there and noticed something " was terribly wrong" as it appeared no one was living there. Robbins called Jiannoni's family and was informed Jiannoni had gone to Afghanistan. Robbins felt abandoned and betrayed because Jiannoni had not told her of his plans. Shortly after Thanksgiving 2006, Robbins learned Jiannoni was in a romantic relationship with another woman, Gilda Moriconi.
[¶11] After discovering Jiannoni went to Afghanistan and was involved with Moriconi, Robbins reported she began drinking every day. She was not sleeping, had stopped eating, and lost a significant amount of weight. Her friends became concerned about Robbins' emotional well-being. She started staying at Jiannoni's house every weekend and one or two nights per week because doing so provided her with emotional comfort. She and Jiannoni continued to communicate by e-mail and telephone and he was aware she was
staying at his house and had no objection at that time.
[¶12] On December 4, 2006, Robbins accessed the Law Enforcement Agencies Data System (LEADS) to run random license plate searches using the term " Gilda." Robbins' search was not related to any investigation, such as a report of a suspicious vehicle. Robbins acknowledged Gilda Moriconi was the only " Gilda" she knew.
[¶13] On December 11, 2006, Robbins again accessed LEADS and conducted a search on Moriconi's driver's license number, followed by a search on Moriconi's license plate. Robbins also conducted searches on the name " Gilda Moriconi" on 411.com, zabasearch (a website she learned of in a computer investigation class), and Google. Robbins acknowledged these searches were conducted on her work computer (owned by the State of Illinois) for personal reasons.
[¶14] In December 2006 and January 2007, Robbins used her ISP computer to access and send e-mails from her personal Yahoo e-mail account. On December 17, 2006, Robbins used her ISP computer to access an e-mail she had previously sent to Jiannoni from her Yahoo account, including photographs attached to that e-mail. Several of those photographs, which were later retrieved from her temporary internet files, were pornographic in nature. Also using her work computer, Robbins either created or copied a sexually explicit e-mail she sent to Jiannoni. Robbins admitted accessing her Yahoo e-mail account but denied opening or creating either of the above e-mails from her ISP computer.
[¶15] On December 19, 2006, Jiannoni e-mailed Robbins and told her to collect the keys to her house and truck from the console of his truck and asked her to leave his keys on the kitchen counter in his house. Robbins did not return Jiannoni's keys and continued accessing his residence.
[¶16] On December 20, 2006, Robbins went to Jiannoni's house. According to Robbins, every piece of furniture, the carpeting, blankets, pillows, and walls had been sprayed down with cologne. Items belonging to Robbins were gone, the bedspread she had purchased had disappeared, and pictures she hung were removed and packaged up in a plastic bag. Robbins was furious and believed Moriconi was responsible. Robbins began placing a series of calls (approximately 15 to 18) to Moriconi that night, and she continued calling her into the morning. Robbins placed the calls to annoy Moriconi. When Moriconi answered the telephone, Robbins either remained silent or hung up. Robbins continued calling Moriconi whenever Moriconi did something to irritate her until May 2007.
[¶17] On January 21, 2007, Robbins and Moriconi found themselves at Jiannoni's house at the same time. Although accounts differ as to the events that transpired, both Robbins and Moriconi agree they got into a verbal altercation and Robbins slapped Moriconi across the face.
[¶18] The next day, Robbins contacted a locksmith, drove her police squad car to Jiannoni's house to meet the locksmith, and had him change the locks on Jiannoni's house. Robbins admitted Jiannoni had not authorized her to change the locks on his house, but stated she had spoken with his daughter about doing so. (Robbins knew this daughter was not in charge of caring for Jiannoni's house.) Robbins was concerned that Moriconi was going to destroy property inside the ...