Federal Judge Probes Wood’s Employment Status at Time of Alleged Wrongful Haverhill Firing

Haverhill School Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr. during a press conference during the Haverhill teachers’ strike in 2022 (WHAV News photograph.)

As Former Patrolman and School Committee Member Scott W. Wood Jr. seeks damages from Haverhill, a federal court judge pressed for answers on his employment status at the time he ceased being an officer for the city.

Wood filed suit against Haverhill and Wenham last October, alleging breach of contract, wrongful termination, business interference and defamation on the part of current and former police chiefs in both communities. After seeing them trade briefs for around six months, Massachusetts District Court Judge Julia E. Kobick had the opportunity to clarify the legal issues at stake yesterday.

Kobick questioned the status of Wood’s employment in June 2021, when former interim Police Chief Anthony L. Haugh told Wood he would not be transferred from the reserve list to an active work schedule.

Wood’s lawyer, Sean R. Cronin, argued the police department broke the law when it failed to send Wood an official, written communication detailing why he was fired. According to Cronin, this is required for Civil Service employees, which includes police officers in Haverhill.

The city, represented by Deborah I. Ecker, disputes Wood ever became a proper, Civil Service employee—or a “tenured” employee, as the judge put it. Because he had never been officially taken off the reserve list, Ecker argued he did not have a legal right to the procedures Cronin outlined. Ecker added Wood failed to take advantage of any of the official channels afforded Civil Service employees.

Cronin responded Wood was under the impression he was a full employee because he had been sworn in as a reserve officer in October 2020. Moreover, Cronin continued, the city went to great lengths to employ Wood, waiving the usual age requirement. At the same time, the city required he attend a full-time police academy, which Ecker pointed out he failed to do.

The basis for Wood’s termination was itself illegal, Cronin argued, because officials relied on information obtained from a 2013 background report that the city agreed to destroy. Dismissing breach of contract, Ecker responded they had an obligation to share information in the report with the Essex County District Attorney’s office because of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Brady v. Maryland in 1963 and Giglio v. United States in 1972. She continued that 2020 criminal justice reform in Massachusetts added further legal basis.

In the 2013 “memorandum of understanding” to destroy the background report, Kobick pointed out a clause that says information in the report is confidential “to the degree allowed for by law.” In sharing the contents of the check with the district attorney, Cronin maintained Haugh, along with Police Chief Robert P. Pistone, defamed Wood on top of breaching the 2013 agreement. Ecker said Cronin failed to point to a specific false and defaming statement. Cronin responded the entire report was defamatory.

Kobick also heard arguments on violations of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, as well as Wood’s first, fourth and 14th amendment rights. These complaints revolved around the allegedly unlawful release of instant message transcripts collected by the FBI as part of a separate criminal investigation. Asked by Kobick, Cronin admitted did not have evidence the criminal investigation was itself conducted improperly.

Kobick is set to decide whether Wood could plausibly, beyond speculation, deserve relief, determining if the complaint survives Haverhill and Wenham’s attempted dismissals.

Comments are closed.