A Thursday court hearing focusing on Boston Police Commissioner Dennis White’s attempt to block Acting Mayor Kim Janey from firing him saw lawyers from both sides doubling down on arguments highlighted in court filings.
The drama played out during a Zoom hearing regarding White’s request for a preliminary injunction to pause Janey’s plans to fire him. White’s lawyer, Nicholas B. Carter, told Suffolk Superior Court Judge Heidi Brieger he should not be fired over past allegations of domestic violence because former mayor Martin J. Walsh was already aware of them when he appointed White to lead the force earlier this year. Walsh has denied this.
Kay H. Hodge, representing the city and Janey, said the acting mayor had not violated any rules, and that White would have an opportunity to tell Janey why she was wrong to fire him at a hearing.
Here are some of the highlights from the hearing.
White is still the city’s police commissioner, at least for now
Judge Brieger took the matter under advisement, saying she would get White’s attorney an answer to his request for an injunction “as soon as possible.” White attended the Zoom hearing. He could be seen sitting in a button-down shirt and tie for the duration of the hearing, which lasted more than 50 minutes.
White’s lawyers say the city has no cause, again
White’s attorney Carter doubled down on the defense his team has outlined in court filings, namely that the police commissioner cannot be fired over domestic violence allegations from the 1990s because then-mayor Walsh knew about White’s internal affairs history when he appointed White and that there is “no actual evidence” backing up the accusations. He said there was no cause to fire White.
“We need to pause in the rush to judgment here,” said Carter. “We’re talking about a person’s life.”
White and former police commissioner William Gross made that claim in affidavits released Wednesday, but Walsh, now US secretary of labor, in a subsequent statement forcefully denied that he was ever briefed on the allegations.
Carter said in Thursday’s hearing that there is no cause to fire White, and also argued that White did not get a proper hearing to present his own witnesses and cross-examine those making allegations against him before he was told he would be fired.
Attacking the investigation report
At one point, Carter took aim at the 19-page report produced by the attorney Tamsin Kaplan, who was tasked with probing past allegations made against White. Carter argued that there is no cause to fire White, adding that the report from an independent investigator that is based “on unidentified witnesses, perhaps entirely on hearsay, which essentially has led to the ruination of Dennis White’s reputation.”
“That is not appropriate,” he said. “That violates his constitutional rights.”
“That is essentially the 16th-century star chamber,” he said, referencing the English court that has been seen as a symbol of oppression. “That is not 21st-century America.”
He also called the report “highly defamatory.”
White’s team wants to add a civil rights claim
After outlining his team’s issues with the investigator’s report, Carter said they plan to amend the complaint, if the judge allows, to add a civil rights claim.
“The public interest here is in getting to the facts and the truth, and ensuring we have a constitutional system protecting our rights,” he said.
Janey’s status as acting mayor
Carter broached for the first time Janey’s acting status as mayor, an argument that had been missing from his earlier legal filings.
“Acting Mayor Janey does not have the authority to appoint to appoint a new permanent police commissioner, under the city’s charter,” he said.
It would be fine for Janey to appoint an acting commissioner of her choice who can serve until Boston’s next mayor, elected in November, names a permanent commissioner, Carter said.
The city fires back
The city’s hired attorney, Hodge, pointed out that the Boston’s mayor is both the appointing authority and the removal authority for the post of police commissioner. Hodge did not think White was entitled to a more robust opportunity to cross-examine people who feature in the city’s investigative report. White has an opportunity via a hearing to tell the mayor she is wrong and bring any evidence he feels he is relevant, Hodge pointed out.
“This is not a difficult case, it is a fairly common case,” she said.
Janey inherited this situation from Walsh, Hodge said.
Janey’s team argues it doesn’t matter what Walsh knew or when he knew it
Regarding the legal case, Hodge argued it did not matter what Walsh did or did not know regarding White’s history before he was appointed police commissioner.
And Brieger said during Thursday’s hearing that her role is to focus on the legal issues raised by White and not on the political fallout his appointment has caused. In that vein, she asked Hodge what legal significance Walsh’s knowledge has in this litigation.
“Nothing,” Hodge replied.
City’s lawyer says White is being dismissive
Hodge described White as being dismissive of the city’s investigation into his past. ”The idea that you can lead by example and not cooperate when your boss, then the acting mayor, has an investigation that’s asking you questions is extraordinary,” said Hodge.
The city has retained Hodge and John Simon, both labor and employment attorneys and partners at the downtown firm Stoneman, Chandler & Miller. A Janey spokesman confirmed Wednesday the city is paying each of them $235 an hour for their services.