Appeals court rules for city in sex scandal suit Fire officer's rights not violated, it says

October 01, 1998|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

Annapolis city lawyers heaved a sigh of relief yesterday at the apparent conclusion of a lawsuit that grew out of a 1991 safety forces sex scandal.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled yesterday that city officials did not violate the rights of a Fire Department lieutenant implicated in the scandal when they wrote to him that he was being fired but that he would continue to be paid until the date of his termination.

The opinion reversed a May 1997 ruling against the city by Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Robert H. Heller Jr.

The dispute began in 1991 when Lt. Kenneth E. Rowe Jr. was accused, along with another officer, two firefighters and two Annapolis police officers, of having sex while on duty.

Investigations in the Police and Fire departments found that three women calling themselves "The Road Warriors" had sex with police officers and firefighters while the men were on duty.

The scandal grabbed headlines and spawned lawsuits against the city by the men accused of improper conduct, including Rowe.

Rowe denied the charges, but after an internal investigation, fire officials notified him Nov. 1, 1991, that he was terminated effective Nov. 21. He was told he would not be required to work anymore.

Firefighter Robert T. Thomas was also notified he would be fired. A fire lieutenant and a firefighter who admitted sexual misconduct were suspended for 30 days and given six-month demotions. Two police officers were suspended for 30 days.

Rowe, then a 24-year veteran, continued to dispute the charges and his termination while an internal investigation continued.

However, firefighter Daniel Early, one of the Fire Department investigators, admitted in December 1991 that he had had sex with one of the women, and the department dropped the charges against Thomas.

Also in December 1991, then-Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins, citing the tainted investigation, called for charges against Rowe to be dropped as well. Both men still work for the department.

Rowe and his wife, Kimberly S. Rowe, sued the city and city officials in October 1992, claiming that his federal and state rights had been violated because he was deprived of his right to practice his trade and he was fired before he had a hearing.

They also claimed intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, negligence and loss of consortium.

Several of those claims were dismissed before a trial, but in May 1997, Judge Heller ruled that the city violated Rowe's constitutional rights by depriving him of employment and by not holding a hearing before sending him notice of his firing.

Heller also ruled in favor of the Rowes on the disruption of his marital relationship.

The city was ordered to pay Kenneth Rowe $30,000 and fTC Kimberly and Kenneth Rowe jointly $20,000. The city did not pay pending appeal, City Attorney Paul Garvey Goetzke said.

In its 27-page opinion yesterday, the Court of Special Appeals reversed all that, saying Rowe had no protected interest in performing his job.

Because the city continued to pay him after notifying him of his termination, his due process rights were not violated, the court said. It also disagreed that the Rowes' marital relationship had been disturbed.

"We're pleased that this case and that this entire unfortunate event is behind us," Goetzke said yesterday. "These lawsuits were an unfortunate waste of time and money."

Thomas' lawsuit against the city was dismissed by the Circuit Court, a decision upheld last year by the Court of Special Appeals.

Rowe and his attorney, Ronald A. Baradel, have not decided whether to appeal to the Court of Appeals decision.

Pub Date: 10/01/98

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