Lindahl v. Bartolomei, H 84-116.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Indiana
Citation618 F. Supp. 981
Docket NumberNo. H 84-116.,H 84-116.
PartiesElaine LINDAHL, Milan Grozdanich, and Dusan Grozdanich, Plaintiffs, v. Rudy BARTOLOMEI, Lake County Council, Board of Commissioners of the County of Lake and Lake County, Indiana, Defendants.
Decision Date16 September 1985

Hilbert L. Bradley, Gary, Ind., for plaintiffs.

Ray L. Szarmach, East Chicago, Ind., Gerald M. Bishop, Merrillville, Ind., for Lake County Council.

Edward H. Feldman, Highland, Ind., for Rudy Bartolomei, Bd. of Com'rs of the County of Lake and Lake County, Ind.

Martell B. Royer, Hammond, Ind., for Rudy Bartolomei.


EASTERBROOK, Circuit Judge.*

Rudy Bartolomei was elected Sheriff of Lake County, Indiana, on October 29, 1983. Chris Anton, his predecessor in office, began his term on January 1, 1983, and died on October 9. Anton was elected as the nominee of the Democratic Party, and under state law his position was filled by a vote of the precinct committeemen of the Democratic Party. Cf. Rodriguez v. Popular Democratic Party, 457 U.S. 1, 102 S.Ct. 2194, 72 L.Ed.2d 628 (1982). Bartolomei, then one of the three elected Commissioners of Lake County, ran in this caucus election against Anna Anton, the former sheriff's widow. It was a heated, close race. About 550 precinct committeemen were eligible to vote; Bartolomei won by 10 votes. Many employees of the sheriff's office had campaigned actively for Anna Anton, a fellow employee. Both Bartolomei and Dorothy Gillham, who became his administrative assistant, believed that everyone in the sheriff's office supported the Antons.

Shortly after taking office Bartolomei fired several employees. Three of them filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, maintaining that Bartolomei let them go because they had supported his political adversary. See Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507, 100 S.Ct. 1287, 63 L.Ed.2d 574 (1980); Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 96 S.Ct. 2673, 49 L.Ed.2d 547 (1976). A bench trial was held on August 14 and 15, 1985. This opinion contains the findings and conclusions required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a).


Dusan Grozdanich was a friend of Chris Anton's and had served as his bodyguard while Anton campaigned for office. He was also apparently active in East Chicago politics. He had been a prominent supporter of his friend Robert Stiglich, once the Chief of Police in East Chicago, in a campaign for mayor in May 1983 against Robert Pastrick, then (and now) both Mayor of East Chicago and Chairman of the Democratic Party of Lake County. Pastrick also ran against Chris Anton for sheriff in 1982, and his loss left some hard feelings. Pastrick solicited Dusan Grozdanich's support in that campaign without success.

Chris Anton hired Dusan Grozdanich on June 27, 1983, to be the supervisor of the civil office in East Chicago. The office's principal function is to serve civil process. Dusan Grozdanich supervised one patrolman in the uniformed service and one secretary. (A bailiff sometimes worked with the office but was formally attached to a court.) Anton initially gave Dusan Grozdanich the title and salary of major in the uniformed county police, and he was issued a badge appropriate to that office. But Dusan Grozdanich had not risen through the ranks; he had just retired as a detective of the East Chicago police.

Anton needed and received the approval of the County's Merit Board to make the appointment. At Anton's request, the board had just instituted a rule that allowed the sheriff to appoint anyone of his choice to the position of major, provided the board approved; the former rule had limited the choice to people then holding the rank of captain in the uniformed service, which operated under civil service rules.

Anton's appointment of Dusan Grozdanich produced substantial unhappiness among the sheriff's police. Captain Daryl Longfellow asked the board on behalf of the police union to rescind its approval. The union believed that the position of major should be filled from within the ranks, and that the new rule had been designed to allow the sheriff to reach down (say, to lieutenant or even to corporal, as Bartolomei was to do when naming the next chief of police) rather than to reach outside the department. According to Longfellow, ever since the institution of civil service among police in the 1960s only uniformed police had been appointed to head the civil offices of the department.1 (Some older outsiders were left in these posts until retirement.) The union also may have been unhappy that Dusan Grozdanich reported directly to Chris Anton rather than through the civil service chain of command.

The board did not alter the rule, but Chris Anton evidently got the message. On September 1 he stripped Dusan Grozdanich of the title, reduced his salary from $24,000 to $17,500, and gave him the title "assistant supervisor." Sheriff Anton did not change Dusan Grozdanich's duties, however, and he stayed on the job until November 21, 1983, when Bartolomei fired him. Bartolomei replaced Dusan Grozdanich with a member of the uniformed police.

Bartolomei did not speak with Dusan Grozdanich about the decision, and Dusan Grozdanich testified that he had no inkling why he was replaced. Peter Katic, recently elected the City Judge of Hammond, shed some light on the subject. Judge Katic is a close friend of the Grozdanich family and grew up with Dusan's son Milan (discussed below). He is also a friend of Bartolomei, and the two have enjoyed substantial political success. Both are members of the Democratic Party, and they have supported each other's bids for office. Shortly after Bartolomei moved from Commissioner to Sheriff, Katic moved from the Indiana House of Representatives to his new position as City Judge. Judge Katic was worried about the future of his friends Dusan and Milan Grozdanich, and on November 18, 1983, he paid a courtesy call on the new sheriff. He inquired about their prospects and Bartolomei replied that things were "very shaky." Bartolomei told Katic that Mayor Pastrick (who had supported him in his bid for office) had told him to "get that man Dusan Grozdanich out of the East Chicago office." Judge Katic concluded, based on this remark and Bartolomei's demeanor, that both Grozdaniches "were out." The two exchanged pleasantries and parted as friends.2


Milan Grozdanich, Dusan's son, joined the department on January 1, 1983, as a bookkeeper and purchasing agent at the department's headquarters. He made the arrangements for his job with Chris Anton shortly before Anton took office. He purchased supplies for the jail and the office and kept the financial books, including those of the prisoners' trust account. He also audited gun permit receipts. He was sometimes referred to informally as the "office manager," although if such a post existed formally it probably would have gone to the sheriff's administrative assistant. Before joining the department Milan had taken a course in accounting during his three years at Brown University, and he had done some bookkeeping while employed by the county assessor's office. Unlike his father, Milan Grozdanich is not politically active. He supported Chris Anton only by voting for him, and his support of Anna Anton was limited to speaking briefly with one precinct committeeman.

The budget under which the department operates specifies the positions and the salaries attached to each. Like many another line-item budget, this one is only tangentially related to what actually happens within the bureaucracy. The sheriff's administrative assistant, for example, fills a position called "intelligence analyst" by the budget. Milan Grozdanich served in a position labeled "security." There were seven "security" slots when Bartolomei took office; as a result of a change in the budget instituted by Chris Anton, two of these positions were scheduled to be eliminated on January 1, 1984.

When Bartolomei took office on November 1, 1983, four of the seven "security" slots were held by matrons in the county jail. The jail was operating under a consent decree that required an increase in the number of security personnel, and Sheriff Anton had planned to comply with this (in part) by moving the matrons into the uniformed civil service. All had taken the necessary test and were awaiting the results. The other three "security" jobs were held by an auto repairman in the police garage, by the person in charge of the forensic lab, and by Milan Grozdanich.

Dorothy Gillham, once the Vice-Chairman of the Democratic Party of Lake County, became Bartolomei's administrative assistant ("intelligence analyst" if one believes the job titles) and was charged with recommending who to keep and who to let go. Rudy Bartolomei fired Sophie Geras, Sheriff Anton's administrative assistant, to hire Gillham. She testified that because the department was losing two "security" slots at the end of the year, she had to dismiss two of the people in those jobs. The matrons were kept in order to comply with the consent decree, and of the remaining three "security" slots Gillham recommended that Bartolomei keep the one in the garage. She had been told that auto repair was essential, that uniformed police could take over the crime lab, and that the regular bookkeeper in the department's main office could absorb Milan Grozdanich's duties. So Gillham prepared, and Bartolomei signed, letters discharging both Milan Grozdanich and the head of the crime lab as of the end of 1983. Both received ten days' notice.

If I believed Gillham's account, I would have to find that Milan Grozdanich's politics (or lack of politics) played no role in his dismissal. But I do not believe it. Gillham's account rests almost entirely on a mechanical matching of person to budget line-item that must be unique in the history of the sheriff's office. Gillham herself was in an inappropriate line item. When Dusan Grozdanich was fired, his line item ("assistant supervisor") was repatriated...

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