MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The Ottawa County administrative health officer will keep her job while her legal battle with the county leaders who are trying to oust her continues.

Judge Jenny McNeill issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday ordering Ottawa County not to fire Adeline Hambley until the matter goes to trial. No trial has been scheduled, though the order suggests it must happen within six months.

The injunction is one step up from the temporary restraining order Hambley was granted March 2. McNeill heard arguments over the order March 31.

In February, Hambley sued the conservative Ottawa Impact-backed commissioners who moved in their first meeting in January to oust her. Her suit argued that state law prohibits the firing of a health officer without cause to prevent the health officer from doing her duties. It says that the commissioners have not produced evidence that Hambley is not doing her job.

The board’s attorney, David Kallman, argued Hambley’s appointment by the former board in December, before the new board took over, required a second vote following certain benchmarks, like confirmation of Hambley’s credentials by the state health department. Instead, Kallman said, the then-board chair simply signed a resolution once the contingencies were met.

Hambley’s lawyers said no requirements were dropped.

In her opinion issued Tuesday, McNeill sided with Hambley, rejecting the board’s claim that her appointment should have required a second vote as a “misinterpretation of the events.” It said the motion’s language was clear, members’ intentions were clear and Kallman didn’t put forth any precedent suggesting a second vote was necessary.

“There is no logical reason for the Board to vote twice on this issue,” McNeill wrote.

She said Hambley was lawfully appointed and agreed with Hambley’s attorney’s assessment of Michigan law that the board can’t fire her without cause.

“The plain language of the statute indicates that a Health officer must be either incompetent or engaging in misconduct or neglect of duty. None of that has been alleged in this case,” the judge wrote. “As such, if the board is attempting to remove her without following the law, the Plaintiff (Hambley) would suffer irreparable harm.”

McNeill anticipated Hambley succeeding in her lawsuit.

“As Michigan law does not allow for termination of the health director without a showing of incompetence, misconduct or willful neglect of duty, the Plaintiff is likely to prevail on the merits,” she wrote.

The board’s lone Democrat, Doug Zylstra of Holland, who was also on the board in December, tweeted Tuesday that he was “heartened” by the injunction.

“I am heartened that Judge McNeil(l) rejected the idea that the December 13 Resolution was not a valid decision of the Board to appoint Adeline Hambley as Administrative Health Director and that Open Meetings Act violations occurred in the process,” he wrote.

The Ottawa Impact commissioners voted in January to appoint Nathaniel Kelly, who has been critical of coronavirus mitigation measures, to replace Hambley. That appointment must be approved by the state health department, which as of Tuesday had not yet received his application. In court on March 31, Kallman told the judge that the board is looking at a lot of options for filling the job.