Friday February 25, 2011

PITTSFIELD - The disorderly conduct case against a Pittsfield parking official who hopes to become a city police officer will be dismissed if he stays out of trouble. But his hit-and-run case is expected to go to trial this summer, which could jeopardize his plans to become an officer.

Shaun M. Courtney, who is on a Civil Service list of candidates vying to join the Pittsfield Police Department, was arrested Feb. 13 for allegedly refusing to leave a local bar after closing time.

When Courtney challenged one city police officer to a fight and made a remark about another officer's gun, police charged the 24-year-old Robert Street man with disorderly conduct and trespassing, according to court papers.

In a pre-trial hearing Thursday, Courtney's attorney, Mark T. Brennan, sought to settle all three charges against his client, including a 2010 hit-and-run incident in which Courtney allegedly left the scene of a crash resulting in property damage.

Central Berkshire District Court Judge Fredric D. Rutberg agreed Thursday to a continuance without a finding for six months on the trespassing and disorderly conduct charges, which means the February case will be dropped in August if Courtney stays out of trouble. But Rutberg would not let Courtney off the hook for the alleged hit-and-run incident, scheduling the case for a Sept. 21 trial in District Court.

In that matter, Courtney is accused of fleeing the scene after crashing into a parked car at the corner of Robert Street and Pecks Road on Oct. 10, 2010. Police said no one was in the parked car at the time, but a piece of Courtney's car was left at the crash scene.

Brennan said he is optimistic his client will put his legal woes behind him.

"This has been a wake-up call for him, and hopefully this will turn things around and help him get his life back in order," Brennan told The Eagle on Thursday.

If Courtney complies with his probation terms and other court orders, the February charges will be dismissed in six months. Brennan said Courtney then will able to say he has never been found guilty of a crime, since his client did not plead guilty to the charges. According to legal experts, the difference between a guilty plea and a continuance without a finding can make a huge difference for people seeking a career in law enforcement.

However, Courtney's fut ure as a police officer could hinge on the outcome of the hit-and-run case. He is rank ed 13th on a Civil Service list containing the names of 123 people competing to join the Pittsfield Police Department, according to the Mass a c h u setts Human Resources Division, which maintains the hiring list. Municipalities that employ public-sector employees protected by the Civil Service system are required to hire from the list, which gives first dibs to disabled veterans and other preferred applicants.

Pittsfield officials, meanwhile, have declined to speak publicly about whether disciplinary action might be taken against Courtney, who began his career as a city parking control officer in January 2010 and earns about $23,000 annually.

The city's Employee Ori ent ation Manual includes a "standards of conduct" section detailing a range of possible punishments for breaking the rules, from verbal and written reprimands to unpaid suspensions and termination.

A city worker does not have to be convicted of a crime to be fired, although the city must demonstrate "just cause" for dismissing an employee. In the vast majority of Massachusetts cases, disciplinary action is not taken until the disposition of a criminal case.

"An employee who's found to violate the rules and regulations of the city of Pittsfield can be subject to penalties ranging from a private admonition all the way up to termination," said a Pittsfield official who requested anonymity.

To read a sidebar to this story regarding public access to the civil service list, please click here or read below.

Civil Service list available to public

Knowing who is on the Civil Service list is a matter of public record, according to the Mass achusetts Human Resources Division, which maintains the prioritized hiring lists for police officers, firefighters and other public-sector jobs protected by the Civil Service employment system. But confusion apparently still exists over whether municipal officials must release this information to members of the public, including the press.

In Pittsfield, officials initially told The Eagle it would have to contact the Human Resources Division (HRD) for a copy of the list, which is now electronic and not readily available. But all Massachusetts municipalities bound by Civil Service hiring rules have access to the lists and must share that public information, according to Regina Caggiano, an HRD spokeswoman.

The city of Pittsfield did share a copy of the list with The Eagle, but only after an official in the Pittsfield Personnel Department and an assistant to Mayor James M. Ruberto provided inaccurate information to the newspaper.

"If you would like information on the Civil Service list, you should contact the [HRD]. The city has no part in placing people on the list," Tricia Farley-Bouvier, the mayor's public affairs coordinator, said in a Feb. 17 e-mail to The Eagle.

When an Eagle reporter visited the Personnel Department last week to view the list, he was told a request must be made in writing to the HRD through the federal Freedom of Inform ation Act. The official then provided the reporter with Cag g iano's phone number in Boston.

"It's a public document," said Christopher C. Bowman, chairman of the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission, the quasi-judicial panel that hears and decides appeals by public employees protected by Civil Ser vice employment rules. Bo w man gave Pittsfield the benefit of the doubt, surmising that city officials perhaps believed the electronic information was off-limits to the public because it is password-protected.

A day after city officials rejected The Eagle's request to view the Civil Service list, city solicitor Richard M. Dohoney allowed a reporter to view a copy of it at his law office on North Street.