Know your Audience: a Key to Skelly Success

Recently Sgt. Butler* received word that his rank as a correctional sergeant was being taken away and he was to be demoted to a correctional officer position. As anyone who has attained a supervisory rank knows, getting your stripes is generally a product of years of hard work. Not only did Butler have to face this obstacle, but the proposed discipline was handed down from a Sheriff who had just recently taken office. Butler promptly contacted Goyette & Associates for representation and the case was assigned to attorney Dan Thompson.

Thompson is a veteran at handling Skelly hearings for all levels of disciplinary action and has developed a specialized style for handling his cases. Knowing the Sheriff was brand new to the office, Thompson chose to create a case based largely on the Sheriff’s platform during his election, that being, a change in leadership and reinventing the department’s image.

Butler was being demoted for several allegations which were intertwined with complicated factors such as poor interpersonal working relationships, conflicting department policy and inaccurate conclusions in the internal investigation. Thompson walked through each of the charges with the Sheriff at the Skelly clarifying when necessary and promoting the opportunity for the Sheriff to invest in a tenured supervisor to “change” and “reinvent” him into a dynamic member of a new team.

As a result, the Sheriff chose to overturn the demotion and instead imposed a lesser suspension. The Sheriff later told Thompson that at the Skelly he was leaning towards the demotion, but after hearing the presentation decided to give Butler another chance.

Being able to read your audience in order to speak to who they are both as a person, and as a political figure, is key to success. Often it is not so much the facts before you, but the manner in which you advocate those facts on behalf of your client. Having an attorney who is well versed in all levels of the disciplinary appeal process is crucial to defending your position and preserving your career.

* Names changed to protect privacy