- Associated Press - Friday, June 3, 2016

GEORGETOWN, Del. (AP) - A Delaware judge is considering a request by New Castle County to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the county’s former chief administrative officer over his abrupt firing last year by County Executive Tom Gordon.

David Grimaldi claims he was unfairly fired after speaking out about potential corruption and abuse of power in county government, including nepotism, favoritism and misrepresentation.

Grimaldi specifically claims that he had repeatedly expressed concerns about county risk manager Cheryl McDonaugh abusing her power.

In a telephone conversation that Grimaldi secretly recorded, Gordon erupts and tells Grimaldi he is fired after Grimaldi lashes out at Gordon for protecting McDonaugh because Gordon has a personal relationship with her.

“This was a spontaneous burst of anger,” Grimaldi attorney David Finger told Superior Court Judge E. Scott Bradley at a hearing Friday.

Grimaldi argues that his firing violated Delaware’s whistleblower statute, which says that no public employee can be fired or otherwise discriminated against for reporting a violation or suspected violation of a law or regulation to an elected official.

The county claims that Grimaldi was fired after a series of embarrassing encounters that negatively affected the county government’s image, culminating in him allegedly trying to use his position to influence the outcome of a traffic stop.

“You know your mayor works for me,” Grimaldi told an Elsmere police officer who pulled him over last October and subsequently cited him for driving with a suspended license.

In its motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the county says the only reasonable interpretation of Grimaldi’s statement to the officer is that he was attempting to use his high-level position within county government to exert improper influence.

Michael Kelly, an attorney representing the county, argued Friday that the whistleblower statute does not apply to Grimaldi’s firing. He pointed to a separate section of state code that expressly states that the New Castle County chief administrative officer serves at the pleasure of the county executive, and that the county executive can remove or suspend anyone he has appointed to a position of trust.

“Mr. Gordon can fire him for whatever reason he wants. … It doesn’t matter,” Kelly said.

The judge acknowledged that the whistleblower statute is at odds with law regarding county government.

“There’s an obvious conflict between the two statutes, and I’ve got to deal with that,” Bradley said.

“I will have to sort out who’s right and who’s wrong on what the law ought to be and what the law is,” Bradley added.

In addition to alleging that he was wrongfully fired, Grimaldi also is suing for defamation, claiming that Gordon has publicly misrepresented the real cause of his firing by claiming that Grimaldi improperly used his position to try to avoid a traffic ticket. He also claims he was threatened with termination because of rumors that he might support a potential challenger to County Council President Christopher Bullock in the next election.

Bradley is expected to rule on the motion to dismiss within 90 days.

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