A high-stakes hearing that began in January before the Oro Valley Employee Grievance Review Board has proceeded in fits and starts, seen both sides change lawyers, and may not be completed until March or later.
Veteran Oro Valley police Sgt. James Bloomfield is before the board seeking his job back after being fired in September as a result of a town investigation that concluded he lied and deceived his superiors during a department inquiry into a confrontation he had with another officer.
Bloomfield insists he didn't lie or mislead his supervisors and has speculated that his firing was retaliation by Police Chief Daniel Sharp for the prominent role he's played as a leader of a police officers' union that has sued the town for collective bargaining rights and for on-call pay.
Bloomfield became embroiled in the investigation after fellow police officer Det. Andrew "Buddy" Novak called Bloomfield Aug. 8 and accused Bloomfield, who is married, of having an affair with Novak's girlfriend.
Bloomfield denied the affair to Novak. He then called his supervisor, Cmdr. Charlie Lentner, to tell him of the phone call and that he was worried Novak might hurt himself or Bloomfield.
That call sparked a department investigation and is at the heart of the charges of dishonesty against Bloomfield. Lenter told investigators, and wrote in a summary of the investigation, that he got the impression from Bloomfield that he wasn't having an affair. Bloomfield admitted during the investigation that he had an affair with Novak's girlfriend two years ago.
The town board has been asked to determine if Bloomfield deceived Lentner and made untrue statements during the investigation, and whether the level of punishment he received was warranted.
The hearing has attracted the attention of the state's largest police union, Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs, and some of its highest ranking members, most of whom are officers in Phoenix-area police departments, have attended the hearings.
The hearing started Jan. 30 and lasted about three hours before being continued to Feb. 4. The Feb. 4 hearing lasted only a few minutes as Bloomfield had fired his lawyer, Jeffrey Greenberg, the week before and hired Michael Storie, a lawyer with the firm Piccarreta and Davis which frequently represents AZCOPS and its members. Storie asked the board for a month's delay to get up to speed on what had occurred so far and to read all the investigative documents. The board voted unanimously to give him a week.
Bloomfield, who had been open and talkative about his situation, would not answer any questions about his switching lawyers and referred all questions to Storie. Storie also declined to comment about the switch.
However Storie, in announcing the change to the board Feb. 4, said he had been asked by Bloomfield, "and several of (Bloomfield's) friends," to step in and represent Bloomfield at the hearing.
None of the state police union leaders contacted by the Northwest EXPLORER would say if they advised Bloomfield to switch lawyers. Greenberg at the Jan. 30 hearing occasionally lost his train of thought and frequently had to restate his questions to witnesses.
The hearing resumed Feb. 11 and also lasted about three hours before being continued to March. 10.
Three days after the Feb. 11 hearing, Oro Valley switched lawyers, replacing acting Town Attorney Tobin Sidles, who is also the town's prosecutor, with Thomas Arn of Quarles & Brady, Streich, Lang, a Phoenix law firm.
Arn, according to the Arizona Bar Web site, specializes in labor and employment litigation.
Town Manager Chuck Sweet said both Sharp and Sidles came to him and asked that another lawyer be brought in to represent the town. He said Sidles' workload as a prosecutor had increased considerably because of the town's crackdown on driving without a seatbelt. Sidles, as acting town attorney, also has to prepare for and sit in on all town council meetings and study sessions.
Sweet said switching lawyers was in no way a reflection on the job Sidles had done in the Bloomfield matter, adding that because the hearing had been delayed so long, he expected the new lawyer to be fully acquainted with all that has gone on and it shouldn't further delay the proceeding.
Sharp also said he was satisfied with Sidles' work but added that he did express to Sweet concern about Sidles' workload.
Sidles was out of town last week. He could not be reached for comment Feb. 24.
The public hearing will resume at 2 p.m. March 10.
ORO VALLEY LOOKING FOR NEW TOWN ATTORNEY
Oro Valley will begin searching for a new town attorney this week, said Town Manager Chuck Sweet.
Current Town Attorney Dan Dudley has been on a medical leave of absence since July and recently was placed on long-term disability, Sweet said.
Town Prosecutor Tobin Sidles has added acting Town Attorney for the last eight months to his prosecutorial duties. Sweet recently had to hire a Phoenix lawyer to represent the town in an employee grievance hearing because Sidles' workload had become tremendous, Sweet said.
Dudley was hired as Town Attorney March 15, 1999. His leave of absence is reportedly related to back pain. It was unclear if the back pain was connected to Dudley's existing medical condition. About 12 years ago, Dudley had both legs amputated below the knee, and one hand and several fingers of his other hand amputated as a result of a blood infection. He uses prosthetic legs to walk.
Sweet said the job will be posted internally this week and outside the town next week. He said Dudley has been told the town will be seeking a new attorney, and that if his medical condition resolves enough that he can return to work, there would have to be a position available for him to return.
Dudley could not be reached for comment.