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Case moves to federal court; Stewart demands reinstatement

Case moves to federal court; Stewart demands reinstatement

Author: Action News 17/Tuesday, April 9, 2019/Categories: Front Page, Latest Stories

The City of Hammond has successfully moved the wrongful termination suit filed by former Police James Stewart from state to federal court, but with that move, Stewart is now demanding full reinstatement to his post as Chief, if the court finds in his favor.

The dueling pleadings are the latest in the saga of Stewart versus the City of Hammond after a “philosophical” difference of opinion in management styles apparently created an irreparable rift between the Chief and Mayor Pete Panepinto. Stewart said Panepinto terminated him; the mayor claims the Chief resigned, and approximately one month later, Stewart filed a wrongful termination suit against the City.

According to documents filed into the U.S. Eastern District Court of Louisiana, the City of Hammond successfully removed the case of James W. Stewart v. City of Hammond from Division B of the 21st Judicial District Court to the federal court just days after the City employed Edwin Bergeron to serve as their new Chief of Police.

City administrators offered no official comment on the change in venue, citing policy that prohibits them from discussing pending litigation.

The documents, signed off by M. Nan Alessandra of Phelps Dunbar and city attorney Andre Coudrain, state that Stewart’s petition seeks “remedies under federal law” and as such, the federal court has “subject matter jurisdiction” to the plaintiff’s claims. As a result, the civil case “is removable to this (federal) Court,” per the pleading, which was filed March 18.

In response to the City’s filing, Stewart supplemented his own complaint by asking for alternative relief from the City. Last week, attorney Ron Macaluso filed a pleading asking the court to reinstate Stewart as Chief of Police “with any and all compensation, benefits, and emoluments of that position from his illegal termination on or about Jan. 4, 2019, until his retirement.”

The case is currently assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Jay C. Zainey and Magistrate Judge Janis van Meerveld, according to the documents filed in the federal court system.

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