Court upheld former fire chief’s firing
WAUKESHA — Former Waukesha Fire Chief Jesse Alba is appealing a judge’s ruling this spring that upheld Alba’s firing last year.
Alba was sworn in as fire chief in May 2013, but by July, city officials were calling for his resignation after it was revealed that he allegedly tried to coerce a part-time emergency medical services worker, Mary Jo Hoppe, into resigning in the wake of their affair in 2012. Alba has since filed suit against Hoppe for defamation; that matter remains pending.
He was suspended and demoted following a hearing before the Police & Fire Commission in 2013. Alba took the city to court, claiming the PFC had violated his due process rights during the first hearing and sought a second hearing in front of a new commission.
In 2014, the a circuit court judge did order a second hearing, but said it was to be held before the same PFC — a ruling that was later upheld by the state Court of Appeals, which also ruled that the PFC, unless it had different members, was not to address Alba’s truthfulness when interviewing for the chief’s job, as that would make the PFC both a witness and the trier of fact.
Following a second round of hearings before the PFC in January 2016, Alba was fired.
Last June, Alba appealed to Judge Michael Aprahamian to review the record and rule that Alba’s rights were violated when the commission took his truthfulness into account and fired him, a harsher penalty than the demotion ordered the first time around. In March, Aprahamian issued a ruling upholding the PFC’s decision.
Attorneys for Alba did not return messages seeking comment.
Brian Running, Waukesha’s city attorney, said the notice was just the first step in an appeal likely to last months, and raised no issues that haven’t already been decided.
Alan Levy, an attorney hired to represent the city, said the appeal was not unexpected.
“Mr. Alba became very persistent and very adamant in his position, so it’s not exactly a surprise; however, he’s not been successful at any level,” Levy said.
Judge: PFC within rights
In his ruling, Aprahamian said the second round of hearings was done properly. The PFC was not to consider Alba’s untruthfulness in his hiring interview, and Aprahamian said the record showed that the PFC did consider Alba’s “lack of honesty, candor, and professionalism” — but in the second round of hearings. Aprahamian said Alba testified he kept his responses to questions narrow because the investigator had not asked questions specific enough to warrant a response about Alba’s relationship with Hoppe.
“At the second hearing, Mr. Alba went further by trying to minimize his prior admissions about knowing that his sexual harassment of Ms. Hoppe was at issue. Instead of answering the questions as he had previously, Mr. Alba responded by referencing prior testimony and stating, ‘The testimony would read that way, yes,’ and ‘According to this testimony, yes,’ Aprahamian wrote. “Mr. Alba’s inability to stand by his prior admissions supports the PFC’s finding of Mr. Alba’s lack of professionalism and maturity, and inability to be candid and forthright.”
Aprahamian also shot down Alba’s claims that his due process rights were violated when he could not cross-examine another witness, administrative assistant Kathy Stefan. Aprahamian ruled Alba was given the chance to crossexamine her meaningfully and on various matters. He said questioning of Stefan was limited, but none of the lines of inquiry were related to matters at issue, nor had any effect on the outcome.
The PFC was within its rights to fire Alba, even though it sought a lesser penalty the first time, Aprahamian said.