Wrongful termination suit filed by volunteer firefighters moved to federal court
Montgomery County attorney: We feel the federal courts are well positioned to deal with this issue'
The lawsuit filed against Montgomery County by the Kensington Volunteer Fire Department was moved to federal court Wednesday in a move the fire company says is a bid to take county residents out of argument.
County attorneys petitioned and were granted a removal of the civil lawsuit filed Jan. 3 in response to a December round of county budget cuts that included de-funding 20 administrative positions in various volunteer departments taking it from Montgomery County Circuit Court to the Maryland District Court in Greenbelt, a federal courthouse.
In their case, the Kensington Volunteer Fire Department and its two administrators who face layoffs, Augustine "Mike" Kelley and Shawn St. Claire, say the county targeted the volunteer departments in its most recent rounds of budget cuts to punish the volunteers for campaigning against a November referendum to establish an ambulance fee a charge for ambulance riders in Montgomery County.
Defendants named in the case include the entire county council, Montgomery County government, County Executive Isiah Leggett, and county Fire Chief Richard Bowers.
John King, the attorney representing the Kensington volunteers, said this move into federal court means he won't be arguing in front of a jury comprised of county residents, who are familiar with the proposed ambulance fee.
"They opted not to try the case in a Montgomery County, with a Montgomery County jury, and a Montgomery County judge," he said. "Why, I don't know."
In the federal court in Greenbelt, the jury is taken from both Montgomery and Prince George's counties, King said.
Montgomery County attorney Marc Hansen said his office wanted a federal judge to oversee the trial as they have more experience with First Amendment cases than a circuit court judge. He said the lynchpin of the volunteer's case is that their First-Amendment rights were violated when they say they were punished for speaking out against the fee.
"We feel the federal courts are well positioned to deal with this issue," he said.
No hearings have been set for this case.