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Fort Worth can pursue hiring a police chief, judge rules

District court judge criticizes Fort Worth city officials for handling of Joel Fitzgerald's termination

A Dallas County district court judge denied a motion by former Fort Worth police chief Joel Fitzgerald to prevent the city from moving ahead in its pursuit of a permanent police chief.

In her ruling from the bench, district judge Gena Slaughter said she could not find irreparable harm to Fitzgerald by allowing Fort Worth to pursue a permanent police chief.

An attorney with the Fort Worth City Attorney's Office said immediately after the hearing, the city is not pursuing a search for a permanent chief at this time.

"Chief (Ed) Kraus is doing an outstanding job,” said attorney Carolyn McFatridge.

The Thursday afternoon ruling from the bench concluded a four day hearing for a temporary injunction, which would have kept a restraining order in place preventing Fort Worth from pursuing a new chief.

Slaughter added she had a number of issues with how the city handled Fitzgerald's firing.

"This court is seriously concerned about the conduct of city officials,” Slaughter said.

Slaughter said the reasons the city provided for Fitzgerald's termination on May 20 suffered from a "serious significant lack of documentation".  

She pointed to two performance reviews, one of them more than a year old, that were sent to Fitzgerald right after he authored a memo outlining his concerns about possible criminal violations by city employees.

"To be honest, this smells," Slaughter said.  "Nothing in them (performance reviews) leads to serious concerns of an impending termination.  And if the city was so concerned about Dr. Fitzgerald’s historic performance going back to this, providing them in a timely manner, discussing them with him would have been expected."

After the hearing, Fitzgerald says his hope is still to be reinstated as police chief after a possible jury trial.

"I’m disappointed I didn’t get the ruling that I wanted but I think I got a fair shot and it’s not over,” Fitzgerald said. "I think anyone who looks at this critically and says to themselves 'what happened here', might think that we deserve another shot.”

Fitzgerald was fired as Fort Worth police chief on May 20 after serving more than three years.

During closing arguments Thursday, attorney Stephen Kennedy argued that granting a temporary injunction was the only remedy that could make Fitzgerald whole.  

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Kennedy said Fitzgerald, 48, is a public figure and that his reputation was irreparably damaged after the city held a press conference announcing his termination.

Attorney Lynn Winter with the city of Fort Worth argued granting a temporary injunction would allow Fitzgerald to "control the city's hiring process" by telling the city "we can't hire a permanent police chief."

Fitzgerald maintains he was fired for being a whistleblower, exposing alleged wrongdoing related to city employee access to a sensitive criminal database. He was fired moments before he was set to meet with FBI agents over supposed inappropriate access to the Criminal Justice Information Services database by City IT employees.

Assistant city attorney Jay Chapa denied he had any knowledge of Fitzgerald's planned meeting with the FBI, testifying Wednesday that the decision to fire the police chief was made the week before and his termination memo was completed prior to May 20.

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