Raleigh, N.C. — An agent with the state Division of Alcohol Law Enforcement was fired last year because he is a Democrat working under a Republican administration, a state judge ruled this week.
Senior Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison Jr. ordered Tuesday that John Ledford be reinstated to his position at ALE, receive back pay and be awarded about $50,000 in legal fees. The state Department of Public Safety has 30 days to appeal the ruling to Superior Court.
Ledford, who was appointed ALE director in 2009 by Democratic former Gov. Beverly Perdue, sought to return to the field in 2012 and was assigned as an agent – with a much lower salary – to the agency's Asheville office.
Shortly after Republican Gov. Pat McCrory took office a year ago, Ledford was fired, with then-DPS Commissioner of Law Enforcement Frank Perry informing him in a memo that "the events leading to the demotion could not be viewed as anything other than unacceptable personal conduct."
Ledford was the subject of a 2012 state audit that criticized his use of a state-owned vehicle to commute from Raleigh to his Asheville home on weekends while he was director of ALE. State Auditor Beth Wood also said Ledford tried to stonewall and intimidate her investigators conducting the audit.
Morrison determined, however, that Perry didn't follow ALE rules for disciplining employees. The judge also noted in his decision that former DPS Secretary Kieran Shanahan was openly critical of Ledford's move to a non-exempt position – meaning he couldn't be fired at will as a political appointee – and later sent a late-night email to McCrory's chief of staff notifying him of Ledford's termination.
"(Ledford) was a marked man politically following the 2012 election for governor," Morrison said in his seven-page ruling.