LOGANVILLE – The Georgia Supreme Court ruled Monday the actions of Loganville Fire Chief Terry Pilcher did not fall under the state’s guidelines of stalking.
As a result, the permanent restraining order filed by 10 Loganville firefighters that has complicated the chief’s ability to perform his job since June 2, 2005 has been lifted. All seven justices concurred with the decision filed by Justice Carol W. Hunstein to reverse the lower courts’ decisions.
“Logic and reason have been rare since this case started,” said Michael Puglise, Pilcher’s attorney who spoke on his client’s behalf. “The lower courts got it wrong, the appellate court got it wrong. We are just happy that the Supreme Court got it right in this case.”
“I am thankful of the confidence my client had in us to take this matter to the Supreme Court where they heard the case and made the right decision,” Puglise said.
The case originated in March 2004 when temporary restraining orders were filed and granted by Walton County Superior Court on behalf of Loganville firefighters against their boss, Pilcher. The orders claimed the fire chief physically abused them, centering around a Feb. 16, 2004 game of basketball, and that Pilcher was verbally abusive.
The case went to court April 15, 2005 and a final order was issued under the state’s anti-stalking statute less than a month later. The ruling included a permanent restraining order that did not allow Pilcher within 500 yards of any who filed suit and if he remained fire chief, he was required to have someone accompany him.
An appeal was immediately filed and the appellate court later upheld the legality of the lower court’s decision. The case made its way to the state Supreme Court, where arguments were heard in January. Pilcher’s attorneys argued the lawsuit was in essence, an attempt to remove an unpopular boss and that if the decision was upheld, it would allow disgruntled employees a way to remove their boss if contact was initiated without consent.
The Supreme Court decision ruled there was a failure to “show that Pilcher’s contacts meet the statutory definition of ‘harassing and intimidating’ conduct ‘which serves no legitimate purpose’ … The verbal taunts … were not sufficient to create a reasonable fear for the safety of (the firefighters) or their families. Thus, Pilcher’s conduct does not fall within the statory definition of stalking …”
Paul Rosenthal, who represented the firefighters in the suit, was not pleased with the ruling but said his clients do not intend on appealing the decision.
“While my clients respect the rule of law and the appellate process, they and I nonetheless are disappointed int he Supreme Court’s decision,” Rosenthal said. “Respectfully, we truly believe the Supreme Court got it wrong and with this decision removed from the tool belt of all Superior Court judges the ability to craft remedies that are very fact-specific and very necessary to protect all Georgia citizens from all forms of stalking, whether in the workplace or elsewhere.”
Pilcher has remained at his post, throughout the whole ordeal. Attempts to reach city officials to determine the impact the decision would have on Pilcher’s day-to-day activities were not immediately returned.