The good news for Frank Coconate — the man Mayor Daley backers love to hate — is that he’s inching closer to getting back his old job and fully clearing his name.

In 2006 the city fired him from his job in the water department, claiming he was goofing off on the job.

He countered that he was really fired for being a whistle-blower and openly urging [PDF] Congressman Jesse Jackson to run against Mayor Daley in last year’s election.

Last summer hearing officer Roger Balla and the city’s human resources board, which is appointed by Mayor Daley, upheld the city’s firing [scroll down]. Coconate appealed and his case came before Cook County judge LeRoy K. Martin.

Last week Martin ruled that though he disagreed with the severity of the board’s punishment, he felt obliged to go along with it because he didn’t think he could “substitute” his “opinion” for the city’s hearing officer and human resources board.

“I’m bound to affirm the board’s decision if, in fact, the board — if there’s any basis at all for the board to reach its decision,” Martin ruled. “The — and it’s probably not proper, so I won’t go into any detail, but I can think of other decisions that I’ve been involved in and other decisions that I’m aware of that would seem to me to be a lot more egregious than the things that they — that the city has leveled against Mr. Coconate. And considering the amount of service that he’s given to the city, I am of the opinion that the decision to discharge him would probably not have been my decision either. Quite frankly, I don’t think that the punishment fits the crime, even assuming what the city says is correct.”

What? The whole point of a losing party appealing to a higher court is to convince a judge or panel of judges to substitute their ruling for that of the lower court. That’s why they call it an appeal. If Judge Martin didn’t think he had the power to overturn the board’s ruling, he should have saved both sides — city and Cocoante — the time and trouble of presenting their cases. 

By the way, Martin’s confession of helplessness in the Coconate case offers an interesting contrast to his ruling in the matter of Joseph Annunzio, the city transportation department supervisor who was fired for making racist comments to coworkers.

Last November, the human resources board ruled that there was not enough reason to fire Annunzio, the nephew of former congressman Frank Annunzio. The city appealed the ruling; on July 11, Judge Martin overruled the board and upheld Annunzio’s firing.

Coconate says he will appeal Judge Martin’s ruling to the appellate court.