Sheriff goes to court to uphold firing of former deputy

An arbitrator did not overstep his bounds last year when he overturned the firing of former McHenry County Sheriff's Deputy Zane Seipler, a judge ruled this morning, but he may have violated public policy in the process.

Judge Thomas Meyer said this morning he would take that second question under advisement and issue a decision Sept. 10 that could force Sheriff Keith Nygren to bring Seipler, a former employee turned heated political rival, back on the force.

Nygren fired Seipler in November 2008 after an investigation revealed two incidents in which the four-year deputy allowed a man who was driving without a license off without a citation. In one instance, Seipler instead ticketed a female passenger for driving without insurance as if she were the driver. In the other, a female passenger was given a warning ticket for speeding.

Seipler has admitted his actions were "mistakes," saying he wrongly decided to give a couple of young drivers a break.

Arbitrator Martin Matlin overturned the firing in October, reducing it instead to a three-day suspension. Nygren was in court today asking Meyer to reverse that decision.

Meyer quickly dismissed the sheriff's contention that Matlin exceeded his authority by reducing Seipler's firing to a suspension, ruling that the collective bargaining agreement between the sheriff and his deputies allows it.

The judge, however, was less certain about Nygren's claims that the arbitrator's decision violates public policy concerning the behavior of law enforcement officers.

"On its face, I think we want a public policy that says we don't want officers writing tickets that are falsified," the judge said.

Seipler attorney Heidi Parker disputed that the former deputy's firing or suspension is a public policy issue, or that any public policy exists requiring his dismissal.

"(The arbitrator) found that there is no public policy requiring discharge," she said. "He made a rational decision that the employee can refrain from committing the offending behavior again."

Nygren lawyer John Kelly, however, said that Seipler's actions "defeat his integrity" as a law enforcement officer.

"Arbitrator Matlin took no account of that," Kelly argued. "Deputy Seipler can't be trusted."

Since his firing, Seipler has become a political rival and outspoken critic of Nygren's administration. Earlier this year he unsuccessfully challenged the incumbent sheriff for the Republican party nomination in November's election. He now runs a website entitled MCSD Exposed that almost daily levels accusations and criticism against Nygren and members of his staff.

Nygren and his former deputy are scheduled to face off again in court next week on Seipler's request for a special prosecutor to investigate his claims of numerous violations of state election laws by the sheriff. The McHenry County State's Attorney's office, acting as Nygren's attorney, is opposing to the request.

Zane Seipler