By J.J. Huggins
METHUEN — Former Superintendent Jeanne Whitten fired Eugene Casey in 2007 for working on an illegal gambling operation while on duty as a school custodian, but now a majority of civil service commissioners say Casey deserves his job back.
Casey, a former Comprehensive Grammar School janitor, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense of using a telephone for gambling after state police busted a gambling ring that was handling up to $500,000 in wagers a week.
Casey received two years of probation and a $2,000 fine. Whitten fired him, and he appealed to the state Civil Service Commission to get his job back.
The commission voted 3-2 earlier this month to amend Casey's firing to a one-year suspension without pay.
"The appellant Casey did not plead guilty to a crime of moral turpitude or a crime that is considered to be malum in se or 'evil in itself,' but only to a crime that is malum prohibitum or 'prohibited evil,'" Commissioner Daniel Henderson, who heard the case, wrote in the decision.
"Indeed, the commission takes notice that the current governor, as well as a considerable body of the legislature and the public, have expressed interest in expanding, not reducing, the scope of gaming activities within the Commonwealth," Henderson added.
Henderson accepted Whitten's testimony that Casey conducted gambling business on the clock at his school job, but he said Whitten didn't prove she had just cause to fire Casey. Henderson said "there was no evidence that established whether he was on a break" when Casey took calls related to gambling, "nor was there evidence to establish that his calls interfered in any way with his custodial duties." Casey had no prior record of discipline at his job before the gambling case.
Henderson said Casey's gambling activity was secretive by nature and would not be noticed by most adults and was unlikely to be understood by students upon observation.
Casey's old boss, former School Business Manager Joseph Salvo, testified that Casey was qualified and eligible for the job.
However, Henderson said Casey deserved discipline, hence the one-year suspension, because he didn't consider the consequences his actions would have on the school district, "including notoriety or embarrassment."
The commission won't allow Casey to collect back pay, but Casey can appeal that.
"We are researching that at the moment," said Casey's attorney Michael Manzi Sr.
Manzi called the decision "a travesty" because Casey has been effectively suspended without pay for three-and-a-half years, when he was only convicted of a misdemeanor.
"Suspensions do not correlate to misdemeanor offenses," Manzi said. "The bottom line is he admitted to a misdemeanor offense and received a relatively innocuous disposition."
Manzi said he has yet to talk to Casey about whether Casey will return to the job.
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 decision said.
The School Department paid him $692.80 per week. He worked the 2 to 10 p.m. shift, according to the decision.
Henderson said teachers and police officers are supposed to be role models, but school custodians don't receive "special public trust."
Mayor and School Committee Chairman William Manzi, a critic of the Civil Service Commission, called the decision "ludicrous."
"I think the decision, on its face, goes back to my earlier comments that the Civil Service system is, at this point, just not based in reality," said the mayor, who is the cousin of Casey's lawyer.
Civil Service Chairman Christopher Bowman, who was one of the commissioners to vote against giving Casey his job back, even called Henderson's rationale "absurd."
"The Civil Service Commission should not be a safe haven for public employees such as Mr. Casey who engage in criminal activity while on duty," Bowman wrote in the dissenting opinion.
"Whether you're right or wrong, when you go to the Civil Service Commission, you cast your fate to the wind," said City Solicitor Peter McQuillan, who represented the School Department.
Mayor Manzi said he isn't sure if the School Department will appeal.
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