Firefighter returns to job

by Robb Fulcher
Published September 17, 2009

Firefighter Sheldon Osekowsky will return to his job Sept. 30 and receive $300,000 in a legal settlement with city officials who fired him three years ago.

Osekowsky was fired after he was arrested on suspicion of DUI in Riverside County, and pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of reckless driving, paid a fine of $1,700, and was placed on three years probation.

Following the arrest Osekowsky, a Fire Department engineer, was not allowed to drive a Hermosa fire engine for a year under a state DMV restriction. His attorney Steven J. Brock said city officials switched Osekowsky to non-driving duties for 10 months, then terminated him.

Melanie Poturica, an attorney for the city, said officials let Osekowsky work until the criminal case against him reached its conclusion, then fired him upon news of his conviction.

The Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission upheld Osekowsky’s firing. He sued, and Superior Court Judge James Chalfant reversed the firing, limiting discipline to a 30-day suspension at most.
City officials initially took the case to a state appeals court before settling with Osekowsky.

In June, while the matter stood before the appeals court, the Hermosa Beach Firefighters Association asked the city to reinstate Osekowsky, a 22-year firefighter.

“In light of the recent financial concerns facing the City of Hermosa Beach, it seems especially unwise to further obligate the city’s finances to the legal costs of appealing another judgment it will most likely lose,” wrote veteran firefighter Paul Hawkins, vice president of the firefighters association, in an email to city officials.

In response to the economic downturn, city officials are leaving eight employee positions unfilled. In addition, the city has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting a multimillion-dollar breach-of-contract lawsuit by a spurned oilman. ER