Court enforces arbitrator's decision which Lake County Sheriff attempted to subvert
Juanita Knight was the an animal control officer in Lake County for 16 years. She agitated for more appropriate furniture for the waiting room of the animal control shelter and eventually a used couch with a $50.00 value was donated for use by persons investigating adoption of animals. Knight considered the sofa inappropriate for use in this setting, took it home, and replaced it with several pieces that she considered more conducive to public use and maintenance. The Sheriff accused her of conversion and fired her, despite her willingness to return the sofa to the Department.
An arbitrator heard her appeal of the firing, pursuant to the contract between the County and the Police Officers Association of Michigan, considered one year off work without pay an adequate punishment, and ordered her reinstated. The Sheriff told her to report to work in the Corrections Department rather than Animal Control, and later amended his instruction to an order to report to Animal Control for immediate transfer to Corrections. Knight had never been trained for Corrections. She appealed the Sheriff's decision to the Circuit Court, where the Judge ordered her reinstated to her old judge, consonant with the arbitration holding.
The County and the Sheriff appealed, further wasting taxpayer money, arguing that the Circuit Judge lacked the authority to enforce the arbitrator's ruling. The County's attorneys also "spen[t] a great deal of time and effort attempting to distort the facts of this case...fail[ing] to comply with the applicable court rules on appeal." The Court of Appeals ruling upheld the Circuit Court Judge's decision. Judge Henry Saad, who always votes for the insurer, corporation or governmental entity and against the injury or discrimination victim, conceded the propriety of the other judges' decision, but still lamented the Circuit Judge's ruling. It is hard to find fault with a ruling that "the sheriff should 'use common sense' and 'do what's reasonable,' " but Judge Saad managed to do just that. He suggested that these phrases indicated a potential willingness of the court, on some date in the future, to consider directing the Sheriff in a manner contrary to the Sheriff's legal duties.