Off the Northway: Longton’s quest for justice goes on

Of the dozens of police officers and other public employees who have faced disciplinary hearings ove

One thing you have to say for Jason Longton: He’s persistent.

Of the dozens of police officers and other public employees who have faced disciplinary hearings over the last few years, we don’t recall another fighting back the way he has.

Seven years after he was fired from the village of Corinth Police Department, he continues to maintain his termination was wrong, and to fight the disciplinary system.

Most recently, Longton has begun trying to meet with state legislators, attempting to change the state’s public employee disciplinary hearing system so that the accused have more say than they do now — which is nothing — over who will hear their cases.

“I should be entitled to a fair hearing. I don’t think that’s too much to ask,” he said last week.

Longton was terminated in 2004 for continuing to conduct a sexual abuse investigation after being ordered to stop by the Corinth police chief, who didn’t feel Longton was sufficiently objective. (No charges were filed and the accused man later committed suicide.)

The Corinth Village Board canned Longton after a hearing held before a hearing officer appointed by the Village Board — the process required by state Civil Service Law. The hearing officer heard the case and recommended his firing.

But Longton has never conceded any error. He spent three years appealing the case in court. At one point, he won a new hearing because proper minutes weren’t kept the first time. But a second hearing was held before the same hearing officer and he was fired again, though a court awarded him $70,000 in back pay.

His appeals were exhausted in 2007, but that wasn’t the end of his crusade.

In 2010, the former cop ran for Saratoga County sheriff on the self-established “Stop Corruption” ballot line, which should give readers a very good idea of where he’s coming from. Longton got about 3,900 votes, or 12 percent, in a lonely challenge to the deeply entrenched 38-year incumbent sheriff, James Bowen.

But that wasn’t the last we’d hear from him, either.

Now, the Greenfield resident wants to tackle the disciplinary hearing system under which he was fired.

Longton says the hearing officers should be persons both parties agree on, rather than someone appointed by the employer with no input from the accused or their attorney.

“If a policeman is screaming ‘corruption,’ who’s going to find out? They’re judge, jury and executioner,” Longton asserted.

It sounds like a pretty straightforward issue of fairness.

It turns out, though, that this is a perennial standoff issue between governors and legislators.

At least eight times, going back to the tenure of the current governor’s father, bills to make

public employee disciplinary hearing officers “independent” have passed the Legislature. They then get vetoed. Mario Cuomo did it, George Pataki did it, Eliot Spitzer did it, and so did David Paterson. Andrew Cuomo hasn’t had a chance yet.

Obviously, there’s a pattern here. It’s easy for legislators to pass the bill. It makes their public employee constituents happy, and they know the governor wouldn’t let it happen, with the complications that could bring.

The measure has always been vigorously opposed by state agencies and local governments eager to defend their right as employers to slap down or fire incompetent, dishonest and disruptive employees, just as private employers can do.

“I see no reason to impose such a uniform and broad change in such an important matter,” Paterson wrote in the 2008 veto message.

The bill was introduced again in the Assembly last January, but never made it out of committee.

Those bills have only applied to public employees who were represented by unions — something Longton wasn’t when he worked for Corinth.

Longton is aware of the issue’s history in Albany, and is undaunted.

“I’m going to push it from a victim’s standpoint. It’s never been done that way before,” he explained.

“It’s crucial that we get this law changed for public safety reasons,” he said, asserting that police officers might be afraid to do their jobs for fear of facing discipline.

He’s already been to Albany to meet with an attorney for state Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, and has a meeting scheduled next week with Assemblyman James Tedisco, R-Glenville.

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