Ohio Chief Prevails on Appeal

Congratulations are in order for Fire Chief David Fulmer and his attorney – Fire Chief Chip Comstock in their victory yesterday in the Ohio Court of Appeals reaffirming that Chief Fulmer’s termination in 2012 from the West Licking Joint Fire District was illegal and must be reversed. [I still can’t say West Licking Joint without laughing]

Chief Fulmer was suspended on May 30, 2012 on

three administrative charges… : 1. Appellee misused public funds both by improperly purchasing fire service "challenge coins" which resulted in modifications to the firefighters' work schedules; 2. Appellee's demeanor, attitude, and conduct created unmanageable and harmful disharmony and mistrust within the District's fire service; and 3. Appellee engaged in misconduct and/or malfeasance and committed various violations of the District's computer, internet, email and online services policies."

"On October 19, and 20, 2012, the Board conducted an administrative evidentiary hearing … [and] voted not to subject Appellee to discipline based upon the first two administrative charges…. [but] determined Appellee should be disciplined on the third administrative charge, and immediately terminated his employment as fire chief.”

“the trial court found the District had failed to present substantial evidence Appellee violated the District's internet use policy.”

“The trial court further found the District had neither articulated nor demonstrated how Appellee's possession of some personal information of his former employees on his computer constituted misfeasance or malfeasance.”

"The trial court vacated the Board's decision terminating Appellee, stating the Board's finding with respect to administrative charge 3 was not supported by the preponderance of substantial, reliable and probative evidence on the whole record."

“[W]e find, as a matter of law, the decision of the common pleas court did not abuse its discretion in vacating the decision to terminate Appellee's employment.”

The court in short order found that the trial court’s finding were proper and even awarded Counselor Comstock and Chief Fulmer their costs.

Here is a copy of the ruling: 5th District Court Ruling

From my esteemed colleague from Ohio, Chip Comstock: “We expected this ruling as the trial court set forth in great detail the factual basis for his ruling. The appellate court concurred that Chief Fulmer in no way violated the district’s policy. While I wish it were otherwise I expect the fire district will foolishly appeal the ruling in an effort to delay the inevitable.”

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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