Ousted Fire Chief Getting Job Back

CLEVELAND (AP) - A jury in U.S. District Court has ordered suburban Wickliffe to reinstate its fire chief. The former mayor must pay him $15,000 in damages.

The verdict Thursday followed a four-day trial and came 17 months after former Fire Chief Phil Kouwe sued the city and Julie Morales, the mayor who sought his firing in December 2000.

Along with punitive damages against Morales, jurors also said the city should pay him for all salary and benefits he lost from his dismissal until his reinstatement, said Kouwe's lawyer, Joseph Diemert.

The back pay, accrued sick time and pension contributions amount to $81,500, Diemert said.

The city must also pay Kouwes' legal expenses, said Diemert, who estimated the bill would exceed $75,000.

U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver will decide when Kouwe should return.

Wickliffe City Council fired Kouwe only nine months after hiring him from North Carolina after a nationwide search. Morales said he wanted changes that the city could not afford and would not agree to her five-year plan for the 45-member fire department.

Kouwe contended that he was covered by civil-service protection and that the city denied him due process in firing him.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)