Vernon, Turnley case goes to Vt. Supreme Court

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MONTPELIER -- Vernon's ousted police chief appeared before the Vermont Supreme Court on Tuesday aiming to reverse a superior judge's decision to dismiss a 2009 suit seeking compensation from his former employer for the overtime pay he said was owed to him.

Kevin Turnley, the chief of police in Vernon from February 2006 to October 2009, filed a complaint just days before his termination stating the town owes him overtime pay for hundreds of hours. In his suit, he contends the Vernon Selectboard refused to adequately fund and staff the department and repeatedly violated open meeting laws by entering into executive session to "micro-manage" the police during Turnley's tenure.

He is seeking damages to adequately compensate for his injuries, as well as the costs of the suit and legal fees in the summons.

In August 2011, a Superior Court judge found in favor of Vernon, saying the town met its burden of demonstrating it is entitled to a summary judgment as to Turnley's claims under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act overtime provisions.

If the Supreme Court disagrees, the case will return to the lower court.

Sharon L. Annis with McCarty & Buehler law firm in Brattleboro, who represented Turnley, said there was a lack of sufficient and indisputable facts on the record.

"And because of that, it was premature to make a summary judgment ruling," she said. "And because there are disputed material facts regarding the nature of Mr. Turnley's actual day-to-day duties, that summary judgment was inappropriate."

Annis also said the Selectboard usurped his authority as police chief.

"The overall character of his job was essentially converted into being a de facto police officer. And for all those reasons, he should be compensated for overtime," she continued. "He's not a so-called white-collar worker under those circumstances and at this stage the town has shown Mr. Turnley had some managerial duties ... and a jury should be the fact-finder to decide if this in fact happened the way Mr. Turnley claims and if so, he be entitled to compensation for that."

John T. Leddy with the Burlington-based McNeil, Leddy & Sheahan law firm representing Vernon, agreed with the August 2011 ruling.

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"We thought that the Superior Court was correct in its decision and the summary judgment was appropriate. There was no issue of any material facts. Chief Turnley was hired pursuant to state law, state statute, and he was not entitled to any overtime pay based on the Fair Labor Standards Act," Leddy said.

Both legal teams said there is no current timetable on when the court will render a decision.

According to the initial summons, Turnley alleged from February 2006 to December 2008, he worked 825 hours of overtime, which was acknowledged by the town.

In addition to his appeal at the Supreme Court, Turnley is awaiting a decision within the Civil Division of Windham County Courthouse regarding his termination.

During the Dec. 15, 2011, hearing, his attorneys called for a new trial with a neutral jury because the town did not offer minimum protections in the Municipal Administrative Procedures Act.

Vernon's attorney for the civil trial, Richard H. Coutant of Salmon & Nostrand in Bellows Falls, said the main issue in the case was the plaintiff did not offer any evidence against the termination and therefore the case should be judged on those merits.

Judge Katherine Hayes presided over the civil appeal and has not yet rendered a decision in reference to his termination appeal.

Turnley was fired Oct. 26, 2009, by the Selectboard for neglectful duty as chief, accused of being "guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer" after deliberately making false statements to the public concerning his knowledge relating to a potential public safety issue.

Three weeks before his termination, Turnley said during a heated public meeting he had no prior knowledge of a sex offender moving into Vernon. An e-mail from the state's sex offender registry office dated Aug. 13, 2009, contradicted Turnley's statements from the Oct. 6, 2009, public forum.

Chris Garofolo can be reached at cgarofolo@reformer.com or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.


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