SHELTON — A judge has rescinded the reinstatement of former city police officer Daniel Judkins who was fired in 2017 for alleged racist and sexist Facebook posts.

Judkins, who appealed his termination, was accused of making a racist remark about former President Barack Obama and using a misogynistic slur to refer to a judge.

The arbitration panel at the time ordered Judkins reinstated — though he never returned to the job.

The city filed a lawsuit, seeking to vacate the arbitrators’ decision, and a judge ruled on Nov. 5 that the arbitration panel acted improperly for “refusing to hear evidence pertinent or material to the controversy.”

The judge ruled that the case go back before the state Board of Mediation and Arbitration, with the city allowed to submit all information it feels pertinent to its decision to terminate Judkins.

Attorney Mark Sommaruga, of Pullman & Comley, representing the city, said he was pleased with the judge’s ruling.

“Although it had — as the court noted — one arm tied behind its back at the original arbitration hearing, the city still felt that the Facebook posts that were already admitted and viewed by the arbitration panel supported termination — instead of the 19-month suspension from the arbitration ruling,” Sommaruga said.

“We now hope that with even further evidence of misconduct, via the additional vile posts, and with the direction given by the court in its ruling, the arbitration panel will uphold the termination,” Sommaruga added.

Union representative Mike Lewis said he was not familiar with the case and could not comment. Union attorney Barbara Resnick could not be reached for comment.

“I respect the judge’s decision and, again, stand by the department’s issued termination that Judkins is a liability to the department,” Police Chief Shawn Sequeira said. “His personal (Facebook) posts are extremely discriminating and prejudicial, and there are psychological concerns when carrying a firearm and interaction with all cultures and races.”

Sequeira said Judkins’ history combined with these serious concerns provided just cause to terminate his employment.

“What substantiates the termination is the DOL handing out a 19-month suspension,” Sequeira added. “One would believe if you were willing to hand out such a serious, long suspension, why would you not terminate. (It is) always serious when handling a firearm and having the ability to affect someone rights and liberty.”

The city’s lawsuit comes after nearly three years of legal wrangling since the firing.

In a June 2017 termination letter, Shelton Administrative Assistant Jack Bashar wrote that Judkins’ Facebook posts — none of which specifically referenced his work as a cop — “were inconsistent with any legitimate expectation of professionalism that employees must show when dealing with the public.”

“The content of your postings contains prejudicial, discriminatory, offensive, insulting and hateful content against a multitude of classes of individuals in our society,” Bashar wrote. “Such content cannot and should not be tolerated and may undermine your effectiveness as a police officer.”

On his behalf, Shelton’s police union appealed his firing to the state Board of Mediation and Arbitration under the terms of the union’s contract with the city.

The panel held 16 hearings in the case between October 2017 and July 2018 before issuing a written ruling later that year.

In the decision, the three board members — Douglas Cho, John O’Connell and Donald Sevas — wrote that “after a great deal of consideration,” the city had not established just cause to fire Judkins, though it was within its rights to impose “lesser, but significant” discipline — such as a 19-month suspension.

They concluded that Judkins’ Facebook posts contained “potentially highly offensive language” and that his post about Obama constituted “hate speech.”

“Publishing hate speech may be protected for ordinary citizens, but sworn police officers should have no expectation that they are free to publish hate speech and not suffer consequences in the workplace,” the panel wrote.

However, the arbitrators decided to reduce his punishment to a 19-month unpaid suspension after comparing Judkins’ case to others involving police officers’ social media posts.

They noted Judkins’ “solid” 10-year employment record at the department. His personnel file contained several letters of commendation, including one from Mayor Mark Lauretti, thanking him for helping to apprehend a person who had stolen property from the mayor’s city car in 2009.

Judkins was hired in August 2007 and was earning an annual salary of $73,127 when he was fired.

The arbitrators ordered the city to reinstate Judkins effective Jan. 1, 2019, with back pay to that date — provided he write letters of apology to Lauretti and the police union’s president.

In its appeal, the city stated the arbitrators’ decision ignored U.S. Supreme Court precedents and is bad public policy.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com