A former Cook County Sheriff's Office sergeant, fired for alleged off-duty incidents involving alcohol, is suing Sheriff Tom Dart, claiming the sheriff's Merit Board had no authority to sack her, because board members were serving interim, rather than six-year terms as required by law, making the board a “sham.”
Kelly Mrozek lodged a lawsuit Jan. 3 in Cook County Circuit Court against Dart and the Merit Board. Mrozek is represented by Christopher Cooper, a lawyer with the Fraternal Order of Police. She is alleging Dart and the board committed fraud and negligent misrepresentation, by having an improperly constituted board.
In July 2011, Mrozek was put on paid suspension and was then eventually fired as a deputy sheriff after a number of alleged off-duty improprieties. According to the Chicago Tribune, Mrozek's three-year-old son was found wandering her neighborhood in June 2011, while she allegedly was at home intoxicated, leading to a child endangerment charge against her.
Shortly after the boy was then removed from her custody, Mrozek parked her squad car at a restaurant, acted “erratically” and sat inside another car that was unlocked, the newspaper further reported.
Several months earlier, a pajama-clad Mrozek tried to enter a bar carrying her son, according to the Tribune. Around the same time, she called police to report her son missing, then called back to say he was at a day care facility, prompting police to visit her home, the newspaper reported. Officers discovered Mrozek smelling of alcohol and belligerent, according to the newspaper. Mrozek was not charged in these incidents.
In 2006, she and her boyfriend were acquitted of criminal charges after neighbors complained they were having sex in a backyard hot tub. However, she was demoted at the sheriff's office, the newspaper reported.
Mrozek is alleging the Cook County Sheriff's Merit Board had no authority to fire her, because members of the board were not appointed to six-year terms, as mandated by law. As a consequence, Mrozek contends the board was not properly seated to conduct business.
In this connection, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 sued Dart in November for the same issue. The union is alleging 16 board appointments since March 2005 were invalid, because they were for interim terms, not six-year terms. As a consequence, the union claims all board disciplinary decisions since that time are void. According to the union, the shortest term was for four and a half months. As of November, one member was serving a term of less than six years.
The union wants all discipline since March 2005 rescinded and for Dart to be prohibited from bringing any new cases before the board until every member is serving six years.
When the sheriff wants to punish a sheriff's office employee with more than 30 days suspension, the matter goes to the merit board, with the board deciding to uphold or dismiss the charges, or reduce the proposed penalty.
The sheriff submits board nominees to the Cook County Board of Commissioners for approval.
Mrozek wants to be reinstated as a deputy sheriff with back pay and benefits, and to have the records of her termination purged. She also wants punitive and compensatory damages of at least $50,000, as well as reimbursement of her legal costs.
Mrozek further wants the board prohibited from filing or refiling against her the same or similar disciplinary charges.
The former deputy claimed her firing caused her to suffer “stigma” and “garden variety mental stress and anguish,” the lawsuit said.