- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - California’s firefighting agency can twice demote three state firefighters who cheated to get jobs and promotions at a training academy that was rocked by an ethics scandal, a state appeals board said in a decision made public Tuesday.

The State Personnel Board backed an administrative law judge’s decision that the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has the authority to impose tougher penalties than were originally sought against the three.

The judge said James Michels, Justin Chaplin and Frank Schonig were promoted to academy fire captains after obtaining advance test information from an academy supervisor, Orville Fleming, who later was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend.

They were demoted last year during the resulting scandal at the agency’s training academy in Ione, east of Sacramento. But two of the three were able to quickly receive new promotions.

The department withdrew the initial disciplinary charges and filed new ones alleging dishonesty and willful disobedience. The board last week upheld CalFire’s ability to demote them a second time.

The union representing state firefighters had objected that the new charges were improper double jeopardy.

The firefighters could sue in an attempt to overturn the board’s decision, but no decision has been made yet, said union spokesman Terry McHale.

“We’re disappointed with the result, but are obviously hoping that this is a learning experience for everyone and that a new chapter is coming in which management and labor can work more closely together,” he said.

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