Smith reversed a hearing officer’s decision Nov. 20 and ruled that Bowen be reinstated as police chief and receive back pay for the previous three years, which totals just more than $200,000.
According to Webb, when the written ruling is released, the city will have to either reinstate Bowen or appeal the case. Bowen’s attorney, Keith Williams, has fought to get Bowen back in office since the ruling was announced in court, but Lebanon city attorney Andy Wright doesn’t think Bowen will see the office any time soon.
“The plan is to file an appeal with the state Court of Appeals and immediately file a motion for a stay until the appeal’s decision is reached,” said Wright.
Wright said it would be unusual for a stay not to be granted.
Bowen originally planned to return to the police department the morning after the ruling in court, but was told that without the written order he would not be allowed in and possibly arrested if he showed up.
Wright said an order typically wouldn’t go into effect for 30 days.
“The judge’s order is the judge’s order. We have to abide by it no matter how much we disagree with it,” Wright said.
Wright said a contingency plan has been in place for three years if the situation were to arise that Lebanon had two “acting” police chiefs.
“We have several scenarios we are discussing. No decision has been made at this point,” Wright said.
Justice assured the public it has nothing to worry about in regards to the police force doing its job.
“I just want to say that this is probably going to be a longer process than just a ruling,” said Justice. “The public should know that no matter who’s in charge, we have extremely competent officers and employees over here. So not matter who’s at the helm, the public has nothing to worry about.”
Bowen filed the appeal in chancery court based on the previous ruling on his firing by then Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead in 2014.
“We thought it would happen all along if we saw a level playing field,” said Williams. “The first court we were in was a circus. I just want to go on record and say that.”
“In the end, all we wanted was our day in court in front of a proper independent judge,” said Bowen. “This decision is just another example of how certain department heads were treated by former Mayor Craighead.”
Smith said he came to the decision after he realized the evidence submitted by the city violated Bowen’s constitutional right to due process.
According to Smith, hearing officer Brett Gipson made his original decision based on a section in the city charter that gave the mayor the right to fire certain city employees.
“I don’t think the city can put out their own rules that trump somebody’s constitutional rights,” said Smith. “That’s essentially what their position is.”
Smith told the court none of the evidence submitted by the city in the hearing could be entered legally because it violated Bowen’s rights.
“There’s supposed to be all this evidence supporting the city’s defense, and if you consider illegally entered evidence, there is,” said Smith. “If you strike all of the illegal evidence, though, you strike 100 percent of the evidence. It seems to me like [Gipson] just ignored what the code section said.”
Smith made the ruling after five days of reading more than 1,100 pages of evidence submitted by both legal teams.
“You guys asked for six days, and I used every bit of it,” said Smith when he handed down the ruling. “I worked at least 10 hours a day. I was up until 10 last night and woke up at 5:30 this morning to finish it off.”
Smith recommended to Bowen a separate hearing regarding the retaliatory discharge for which he sued the city, though the city’s attorney alleged they had seen nothing about this. Smith did not believe the motion would benefit Bowen in any way, though.
“I’ve already ruled in favor of reinstatement, or if he’s not reinstated then front pay and back pay, so the only thing we’re really talking about here is attorney fees and court costs,” said Smith. “To be honest, I’m not even sure the court awards attorney fees and court costs.”
Democrat staff writer Xavier Smith contributed to this report.