The state Department of Labor has ruled a fired police lieutenant is eligible for unemployment compensation because the town of New Milford missed the 21-day appeal deadline.

Ridgefield attorney Daniel Hunsberger, who is representing former Lt. James Duda, said he received notification Monday his client is eligible for the benefits because they were able to prove the town did not file its appeal in a timely fashion.

Mr. Hunsberger said he and his client were notified April 6 of the benefits award and the town did not file an appeal until two months later.

"I hope everything is this easy (in this case), but I'm sure the town will make it more difficult," Mr. Hunsberger said.

Town personnel director Alan Chapin maintains his office never received written notification of a benefits award.

"If I did, I'd have a copy of it," said Mr. Chapin, who noted the state Labor Department does not require a stamped receipt for such notifications.

He said referee Anita Weeks produced no documents at the hearing to indicate when the town should have received the document.

"I don't know what happened," Mr. Chapin said.

He added he was informed by the local media June 6 a decision dated April 6 had been sent to Mr. Duda's attorney.

Mr. Chapin said he then contacted the Labor Department and was faxed a copy. The town filed its appeal the next day.

The Labor Department requires an appeal be made within 21 days of the benefits decision.

Mr. Duda was fired March 4 as the result of an internal affairs investigation that said he intentionally damaged police department computer equipment.

The former cop, 46, who was fired two months before he was eligible for retirement, has filed a $10 million federal lawsuit claiming the town had no valid reason to fire him and did so without due process.

The town's appeal of the unemployment compensation was based on the town's assertion Mr. Duda was fired for cause.

Referee Weeks' finding suggests the town's mail handling practices apparently caused the delay in official notification, and that was not sufficient cause to file a late appeal.

Due to the filing issue, Referee Weeks did not comment on the merits of the case.

At this point, the town is eligible to appeal the referee's decision to the state Board of Review by Oct. 22.

Mayor Pat Murphy, who reiterated the town received no formal documentation of a benefits award, said she will consult with town attorney Randy DiBella about what step to take next.

Mr. Hunsberger said he believes the referee's decision is symbolic of the way his client's case will unfold.

"We fully expect the federal lawsuit to follow in similar fashion," he said.

"I hope everything is this easy (in this case), but I'm sure the town will make it more difficult."

Daniel Hunsberger

Attorney for James Duda, former New Milford police lieutenant