MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — A temporary restraining order instructing Ottawa County leaders not to fire the county’s top health leader will remain in effect for now while the judge mulls whether the case should move forward.

Judge Jenny McNeill heard arguments in the case last week. She issued an order Monday that “the TRO entered by this Court on March 2, 2023, remains in place until the Court’s further Order and Opinion on the motions.”

The judge has not yet issued a decision on the request for a preliminary injunction, which is needed for the case to continue.

“The court is trying to decide whether or not the preliminary injunction should be held until it has a chance to conduct a full trial on the merits, and so the preliminary request is very much a guess as to what’s going to transpire down the road,” Mark Dotson, a professor with Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, said.

He explained that several factors play into a judge’s decision to issue or extend a temporary restraining order. One of the most crucial is the claim that if the court doesn’t stop the termination, Hambley will “suffer what is referred to as irreparable injury,” he said.

“They just cautiously may say, ‘Who’s going to win eventually? We don’t know but we are convinced that the harm to her would be considerable in the event that she is terminated and it turns out to be a wrongful termination,” he explained.

The TRO states the judge will issue her ruling on the preliminary injunction “shortly” but doesn’t say exactly when that will be. If a preliminary injunction is granted and the case goes forward, Dotson said Hambley would be seeking a permanent injunction.

“If indeed the court reverses the TRO and does not issue a preliminary injunction … that can be appealed. And also there’s a prospect of a civil lawsuit seeking damages claiming wrongful discharge,” Dotson said.

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, the current board’s attorney said the then-board chair simply signed a resolution once the contingencies were met.

Hambley’s lawyers said no requirements were dropped.

On Tuesday, County Administrator John Gibbs declined to comment on the case. An attorney representing the county says the defendants are awaiting the decision and are confident in their arguments.

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 Friday had not yet received his application. Kallman told the judge that the board is looking at a lot of options for filling the job.

—News 8’s Joe LaFurgey contributed to this report.