Illinois Chief Loses Suit to Block Termination

An Illinois chief who was found guilty of falsifying time sheets in 2015, has lost his effort to block his termination. Deputy Fire Chief Ronald Pieri filed suit against the Highwood Fire and Police Commission and Highwood City Manager Scott Coren earlier this year seeking to block their efforts to terminate him.

Chief Pieri was suspended with pay in 2011 after his arrest on payroll fraud charges. At the time he was serving as acting fire chief. When the criminal case dragged on, the Highwood Fire and Police Commission suspended him without pay in 2013.

In 2015 following a bench trial, Chief Pieri was found guilty of a single count of making a false entry. He was found not guilty of four additional counts: two of official misconduct and two of theft of government property. Prior to trial, prosecutors dropped the most serious count, theft of $100,000 or more.

In 2016, Highwood residents passed a referendum to dissolve the city’s fire department and contract with the City of Highland Park for fire and EMS services. That left Chief Pieri in no-mans land as Highwood no longer had a fire department. In January 2018, the commission began proceedings to formally terminate his employment. That prompted Chief Pieri to file suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the commission lacked the authority to terminate him.

Last week, Lake County Circuit Court Judge Luis Berrones ruled in favor of the commission and Coren. The city is now free to resume efforts to formally terminate the chief. More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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