Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Court of Appeal Finds Police Chief's Termination Violated POBR

In Robinson v. City of Chowchilla, (5th DCA F059608) December 23, 2011, 2011 WL 6450602, the Court of Appeal held the city violated POBR when it terminated Robinson, the city's police chief, without the requisite notice, statement of reasons, and opportunity for an administrative appeal. Following termination Robinson filed a petition for a writ of mandate claiming violations of POBR. POBR has special provisions for chiefs of police. Specifically, Government Code section 3304(c) provides:

“No chief of police may be removed by a public agency, or appointing authority, without providing the chief of police with written notice and the reason or reasons therefor and an opportunity for administrative appeal. For purposes of this subdivision, the removal of a chief of police by a public agency or appointing authority, for the purpose of implementing the goals or policies, or both, of the public agency or appointing authority, for reasons including, but not limited to, incompatibility of management styles or as a result of a change in administration, shall be sufficient to constitute ‘reason or reasons. Nothing in this subdivision shall be construed to create a property interest, where one does not exist by rule or law, in the job of Chief of Police.”

The City claimed the notice and appeal provisions apply only if a police chief has a protected property or liberty interest. The Court of Appeal, however, rejected this argument, finding the last sentence of the subsection merely clarified that no new property interest was being created, but has no effect on procedural protections set forth elsewhere in the subdivision.

The Court also held the City removed Robinson from office, thereby violating POBR, when it forced Robinson to leave his physical office, took the authority of police chief away from him, and gave both the physical office and the authority of police chief to someone else, irrespective of when it stopped paying him.