TUPELO – The city of Tupelo is entitled to a new trial after a jury said it violated a former police captain’s free speech rights, says a federal court motion filed Friday.
The four-page motion and its accompanying 25-page memorandum press issues to overturn a $300,000 verdict or to make adjustments in the award to Cliff Hardy.
Hardy sued the city and the Tupelo Police Department after he said he was pushed out of significant roles because he spoke up for his colleague and friend, then-Deputy Chief Robert Hall. Hardy told a crowd at an October 2006 racial reconciliation meeting that Hall was being “persecuted” because of his race.
Hardy is white and Hall is black.
“Tupelo now requests the court to set aside that judgment,” wrote its attorneys Berkley Huskison and John S. Hill, “and enter a judgment as a matter of law in its favor or alternatively, allow a new trial of the case and remit the damages awarded.”
Not a surprise
After the eight-member U.S. District court jury ruled for Hardy on July 24, Hill predicted an appeal, although he declined to go into specifics.
“These are the same arguments they made at trial,” said Hardy’s attorney, Jim Waide of Tupelo, on Friday.
In effect, these motions to Judge Sharion Aycock, who presided over the week-long trial, ask her in some instances to overturn her own rulings.
They are necessary, however, to lay the foundation for higher appeals, if the city decides to do so.
The Tupelo City Council will make that decision because it must approve the spending associated with the attorneys’ work.
The city’s motion claims Hardy did not establish that his comments were protected by the First Amendment, were made without personal knowledge of the matters and failed to show he was punished professionally because of his comments.
Just days after Hardy made his speech, he was removed as TPD internal affairs officer. A few months later, he lost all his supervisory roles and ultimately was reassigned to a two-man apartment patrol program.
The motion also claims the city deserves a new trial because Aycock erred when she allowed irrelevant evidence of other race issues and discretionary decisions by officers.
As for the city’s contention Hardy’s award should be adjusted because it doesn’t take into account the state retirement benefits he’s been paid since he left TPD, Waide disagreed, saying, “His retirement is based on what he’s already earned.”
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal