By Brian Messenger
METHUEN — A judge has upheld the city's decision to fire a former school custodian who pleaded guilty in 2007 for his involvement in an illegal gambling ring.
The news comes nine months after the state Civil Service Commission voted to reduce former Comprehensive Grammar School janitor Eugene Casey's termination to a one-year suspension.
Casey never returned to work in Methuen after former school superintendent Jeanne Whitten fired him in March 2007. Casey now works for the Lowell Public Schools.
Casey was one of 24 men indicted in 2006 for participating in an illegal gaming ring handling up to $500,000 in wagers a week.
He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense of using a telephone for gambling in January 2007 and received two years of probation and a $2,000 fine.
Casey appealed his firing in an effort to get his job back. The Civil Service Commission voted 3-2 last November to amend his termination to a one-year suspension without pay.
According to the commission's decision, Casey was a low-level "clerk" in the gambling ring who was paid anywhere from $500 to $700 a week. He used a phone to disseminate betting lines on games, take in bets and register bets.
The commission accepted Whitten's testimony that Casey conducted gambling business on the clock at his school job, but ruled that Whitten didn't prove she had just cause to fire Casey.
But last week, Salem Superior Court Judge Elizabeth M. Fahey issued a judgement vacating the commission's decision, thus affirming Whitten's firing of Casey.
Methuen City Solicitor Peter McQuillan said he learned of the judgement Friday morning.
"It's always been the position of the Methuen Public Schools that Mr. Casey's termination was justified," said McQuillan yesterday. "We're pleased the court affirmed that position."
Fahey wrote in her judgement that the commission "made a decision in excess of its statutory authority" when it "improperly substituted its own judgement" and reduced Casey's firing to a suspension.
"It was the commission's obligation to only review whether Whitten had just cause to fire Casey," Fahey wrote. "Both the commission and the city found Casey performed illegal gambling activities on school grounds and, since there is very little difference between the factual findings of the two, the commission was bound to defer to the appointing authority's judgement and not modify the termination penalty Methuen imposed."
Casey was hired as a permanent custodian in May 2004 and worked the 2 to 10 p.m. shift. The School Department paid him $692.80 per week.
Fahey went on to write that Casey performed illegal activities on school grounds "and during a portion of his work day when he was in contact with the student population."
"Custodians, while not dealing with students as closely as teachers, still are placed in a position of trust by both the school and the community to help keep the school and the students safe," wrote Fahey. "Therefore, the illegal misconduct of Casey was a violation of this public trust, especially since the crimes were performed on school grounds during his working hours."
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