For the second time this year, a former San Diego County Office of Education employee who is suing the agency for wrongful termination will try to go back to work, even though the agency is expected to turn him away.

This is another turn in the complicated case of Rodger Hartnett, who alleges he was fired for blowing the whistle on conflicts of interest in the agency. The office has countered that Hartnett was fired for negligence, insubordination and dishonesty. Hartnett is also suing two County Office of Education employees as part of the case, who a court recently ruled could be sued in the case as individuals.

In March, a judge ordered that Hartnett be put back to work. The office appealed. That appeal was dismissed last week by an appellate court, on the grounds that it couldn’t be heard until the case was over.

Barry Vrevich, who is representing Hartnett, said the dismissed appeal means that the earlier court order should be in effect, which means that Hartnett can go back to work and get his past pay reinstated. But attorneys for the County Office say that doesn’t mean that Hartnett can go back to work.

Its spokesman Jim Esterbrooks released a statement saying that the idea that Hartnett was now legally allowed to return to work was “patently false”:

The Fourth District Court of Appeals recently held that the (County Office) appeal of Mr. Hartnett’s writ of mandate is premature and cannot be heard until the conclusion of the entire case. This does not allow Mr. Hartnett to return to work. The parties still require a ruling from the trial court addressing that issue. The SDCOE is already in the process of seeking such an order.

The office is closed today, but Vrevich said he expects that Hartnett will try to go to work tomorrow. For more information on some of the allegations and issues that Hartnett raised, check out our past articles.

EMILY ALPERT

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