Corporal's suit says Norris retaliated

Union president claims survey prompted transfer

October 22, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

The union president who surveyed Maryland state troopers on whether they support Superintendent Edward T. Norris, and later was transferred to another barracks, filed a lawsuit against the department and Norris yesterday, alleging that the transfer was an act of retaliation.

Cpl. James D. Wobbleton, president of the State Law Enforcement Officers Labor Alliance, was moved from the Prince Frederick barracks to the Golden Ring barracks in July, four months after he sent troopers the survey, according to the lawsuit filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court. The new posting requires him to commute two hours each way from his home in Calvert County.

The survey, mailed in March, asked troopers whether they supported Norris' reorganization of the department and several ideas that Norris denies ever considering, such as allowing some civilians into the troopers' pension plan and allowing officers from other police departments to transfer to the state police.

By May, Wobbleton's questions were the subject of an internal affairs investigation, and last month he was charged by the department with making a false statement in the survey. Before that charge was filed, however, the 18-year state police veteran was transferred to Golden Ring, the lawsuit alleges.

"It's a significant issue because it's our opinion that Norris is using threats and intimidation to rule the people of the state police," Dan Poist, the state alliance's executive director, said yesterday at a news conference in Annapolis.

Norris, who was attending an International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia yesterday, was unavailable for comment. But his spokesman, Maj. Greg Shipley, said, "Colonel Norris believes this is a frivolous lawsuit that will waste everyone's time and money."

"When Colonel Norris became superintendent, he made his philosophies, his policies and his positions very clear to Maryland State Police employees. This issue involves the misrepresentation of some of his policies," Shipley said.

Shipley said that since Norris took office in January, "he has made many transfers and reassignments, all with the goal of enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of the Maryland State Police. These actions were taken as the result of an ongoing analysis to shift manpower where it is most needed."

Although the union acknowledges the superintendent's right to reassign troopers, Wobbleton's lawyer, Michael Davey, contends that his client's transfer was a disciplinary action that violated Wobbleton's right to free speech.

"When he was transferred, there were vacancies at the Prince Frederick barracks," said Davey.

The lawsuit asks that Wobbleton be returned to the Prince Frederick barracks.

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