On Tuesday, a judge ruled that Acting Mayor Kim Janey was free to move forward with her plans to remove Boston Police Commissioner Dennis White from his current post. Less than 24 hours later, the legal saga took another turn, when the same judge granted a stay that puts White’s ouster on hold, at least for the time being while White appeals the matter to a higher court.
The judge acted at the request of White’s attorney, Nicholas B. Carter, who said in court papers he needs time to prepare a challenge to her decision in favor of Janey before a single justice of the state Appeals Court.
In a handwritten notation on the motion for delay, Judge Heidi Brieger wrote Wednesday, “upon review this motion is allowed.”
In the wake of Tuesday’s ruling denying White a preliminary injunction that would have blocked his firing, Janey signaled she planned to move forward with her plans to terminate White as Boston’s top cop. Her effort to do so came after the release earlier this month of a report detailing decades-old domestic violence allegations against White, who was never charged with a crime and has denied wrongdoing.
Carter argued in his motion that Brieger approved Wednesday that White must first have the opportunity for a higher court to review Brieger’s legal conclusions.
“Even though the allegations that he committed domestic violence are false, Commissioner White will not be able to repair his reputation unless the constitutionally mandated trial-like hearing occurs at the same time as the termination is made,” said Carter in his motion.
Janey said Wednesday she respected Brieger’s decision to “review her ruling, and as such, I have postponed the hearing for Dennis White.”
“I stand ready to move forward on behalf of the residents of Boston and the Boston Police Department, as soon as the court allows,”Janey said in a statement. “I am grateful for the continued professionalism and service of our BPD officers during this time.”
It was not immediately clear how long the appeal proceedings would take, although it could happen in a matter of days.
Rosanna Cavallaro, a law professor at Suffolk University, said it was “a little puzzling” that Brieger would on the one hand deny the injunction but on the other grant a stay.
Cavallaro said she believed Brieger was being cautious and sending the message: “I want enough process to play out and get another set of eyes on it so there’s no sense that this is being rushed through.”
”I don’t think this is a winning lawsuit. I don’t think you can stop the mayor from firing you when it comes to a position like police commissioner,” she said.
Historically speaking, White faces an uphill legal battle in pursuing his appeal, said Martin W. Healy, chief legal counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association.
While it is difficult to predict which way the appellate court will rule, he said in an e-mail, “[g]enerally, it is unusual for a single justice to be willing to overturn the lower court’s ruling.”
Healy said that the Appeals Court judge assigned the case could decide the matter based on the paperwork or hold a public hearing to hear from the attorneys.
Brieger on Tuesday refused White’s request that the judge order a pause in the push to fire him. Brieger ruled she did not believe White would ultimately win his case.
The White case has become a significant political issue in Boston, with all six major mayoral candidates saying that White could not continue as the police commissioner.
Additionally, former police commissioner William Gross, who is White’s friend and predecessor as the department’s leader, said in an explosive court filing last week that former mayor Martin J. Walsh knew about White’s internal affairs history when Walsh appointed him to lead the force.
Such a claim directly contradicted Walsh, who has insisted since February that he did not know about the accusations detailed in the commissioner’s internal affairs history. Walsh has since repeated that he did not know of the accusations, and his account was backed up by another former police commissioner, William Evans.