ALEXANDRIA, Va. - A federal judge has ruled that Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman was within his rights to fire Mark McCaffrey, a high ranking deputy who supported an opposing candidate in the GOP primary, acting as a delegate.
Now, the deputy is appealing the judge's dismissal of that lawsuit in circuit court.
“It's not political retaliation, and that really bothers me,” said Sheriff Mike Chapman.
“That's a lie,” said Robert Cynkar, the attorney representing Mark McCaffrey.
Court documents allege that Sheriff Chapman told a sheriff's office employee that McCaffrey was there with his opponent, so he was "going to get Mike."
The judge in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia said precedent in the fourth circuit makes it clear that sheriffs can fire deputies for partisan reasons when the deputy holds a senior policy making position.
“I think the fact that the judge ruled on it as quickly as he did certainly validates the constitutional authority of sheriffs in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Sheriff Chapman.
The decision stems from a legal doctrine that states employees can be fired for partisan reasons if an employee's political beliefs would interfere with their public duties.
However, the critiques McCaffrey listed of Sheriff Chapman, such as the allegations that he did favors for family, friends and campaign contributors and was verbally abusive, were not political.
“It’s important that we have a focused message and that we deal with the community without having the distractions or the morale issues that can be created by somebody undermining your own administration, and that’s what we don’t want,” said Sheriff Chapman.
“The staff of a mayor that’s writing legislation or that’s writing speeches for that person being in sync with the political orientation of your employer in that is a job qualification,” said Cynkar, explaining the legal doctrine.
The case the judge cited was from North Carolina and ruled that all the deputies in the department were essentially alter-egos of the sheriff.
McCaffrey’s lawyer said he wished the court would have paid more attention to the structure of the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office.
“In the sheriff's own orders, which are the rules and regulations that govern the operation of the sheriff's office, say that policy is set by the sheriff's office,” he said.
There is a small chain of command he said does not include McCaffrey, which Cynkar interprets to mean McCaffrey was never a policy maker.
McCaffrey has appealed the dismissal of the lawsuit.
Cynkar said if they don’t have any luck in circuit court, he hopes to take it to the Supreme Court.