Legislators' efforts to fire Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer stalled Thursday when County Attorney Christine Malafi disputed lawmakers' legal authority to make the move.
Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook), who favors removing Dormer, said he has little stomach for the lawsuit that would be required to enforce the dismissal.
"We have so many problems, that to spend money on lawyers for one branch of government suing another, I don't have the appetite for it," Lindsay said.
Malafi, an appointee of County Executive Steve Levy, said the county charter language - written in 1958 - that allows the legislature to fire commissioners was rendered inoperable by subsequent legislation passed in 1980 that dictates that all department heads "serve at the pleasure of the county executive."
Malafi told lawmakers on the Public Safety Committee that, "To say that the legislature has authority to fire Commissioner Dormer violates those principles and the separation of powers."
The committee voted 3-2 to table the resolution until May 6.
The legislators' list of grievances against Dormer is long. Legis. Jack Eddington (I-Medford) is in a protracted struggle to obtain documents from the department to explain recent personnel moves. Legis. Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor) has accused Dormer of lying to him about whether the department needs more officers. And Legis. Ricardo Montano (D-Brentwood) has expressed his frustration over a recent string of high-profile violent crimes in the county.
George Nolan, the legislature's attorney, said the legislature retains the power to remove commissioners because the 1958 charter language has never been removed.
"I believe it is valid," Nolan said. "The clear language in the charter gives us the authority to remove those people."
Eddington, the committee chairman, urged his colleagues to send the firing bill to the full legislature so the body could make a "vote of no confidence" on Dormer.
"If we do approve it, it probably is not going to be legally binding," he said. "But it will make a statement that the police commissioner serves at the displeasure of the legislature."
Cooper, who first proposed firing Dormer last month, said he will soon introduce legislation to formally give the legislature the ability to remove any appointed department head. Cooper said he won't pursue the measure to remove Dormer until the matter has been legally cleared.