Thursday, December 24, 2009
Court Declines to Stay Administrative Hearings in ADDA Case
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
U.S. District Court Judge Otis D. Wright II of the Central District of California yesterday declined to stay administrative hearings regarding complaints of District Attorney Steve Cooley’s anti-union animus and ordered the county to show cause as to why sanctions should not be imposed against it for bad faith conduct in seeking the stay.
Wright said he was “frankly disappointed” at the county’s decision to file the “frivolous” motion, which “ignored the most basic principles of federalism…wasted the Court’s time and…forced Plaintiffs to incur attorneys’ fees and costs.”
The motion to stay was the county’s second attempt to halt proceedings before the Employee Relations Commission, which has been inquiring into allegations by the Association of Deputy District Attorneys and its officers claiming violations of the Los Angeles County Employee Relations Ordinance for the past eight months.
The ordinance prohibits the county from refusing to bargain in good faith with representatives of certified employee organizations and from interfering with the formation of any employee organizations.
Earlier this month, ERCOM hearing officer Thomas Kerrigan rejected the county’s argument that the administrative proceedings should be stayed pending resolution of a federal lawsuit filed by the ADDA and an unnamed deputy district attorney Oct. 30 which accused Cooley and senior managers of violating the First Amendment by retaliating against the union’s supporters and members.
The association, which bills itself as the largest prosecutors union in the country, was certified as the collective bargaining unit for the county’s deputy district attorneys in March 2008. It is led by Deputy District Attorney Steve Ipsen, who unsuccessfully challenged Cooley in the last election, and Vice President Marc Debbaudt, a onetime Los Angeles Superior Court candidate.
Counsel for the county—Manning & Marder, Kass, Elrod, Ramirez LLP’s Trevor Grimm and Michelle Ghaltchi, and Deputy County Counsel Julie Dixon Silva—urged the district court to stay the administrative hearing, emphasizing that the parties, subject matter and relief sought before ERCOM were substantially the same as those sought in the federal court action.
Federal Jurisdiction Argued
The county argued that the plaintiffs had invoked federal jurisdiction over the issues being addressed by ERCOM, that a final judgment in the district court would have a claim preclusive effect over any decision by the administrative body, that continuing the administrative hearing would create a danger of inconsistent decisions, and that the plaintiffs were obtaining discovery through the administrative proceedings in violation of the county’s due process rights.
But while the county asserted multiple “grounds” for issuing a stay, Wright found that it “has not cited any binding precedent that actually supports granting its Motion.”
He noted that the county only cited six cases, five statutes, two rules of civil procedure, two rules of evidence and two Los Angeles County Code provisions, and that none of these authorities purport to authorize a district court to stay an administrative proceeding.
Wright added that he was “perplexed” by the county’s due process argument, since the administrative hearing process was commenced before the federal lawsuit.
The county had raised similar arguments during the ERCOM proceedings Dec. 3, which Kerrigan had dismissed as “nonsense.”
Counsel for the ADDA in the federal suit, Montana attorney Matthew G. Monforton, opined that yesterday’s ruling meant that “ERCOM will be allowed to proceed into its investigation into Cooley’s anti-union activities unimpeded” and that “Cooley will not be allowed to use the federal court as a refuge to evade ERCOM’s subpoenas.”
Cooley had been summoned by the commission multiple times but failed to appear on each occasion. Kerrigan found Cooley had been “evading” the ERCOM proceedings and, as a result, made a negative inference as to what the district attorney’s testimony would have been.
The hearing officer noted that some “very damning” testimony had already been introduced and if that testimony were believed, then there has been “an impermissible bias against the union in violation of the law.”
If the commission finds that the District Attorney’s Office or its members have engaged in an unfair employee relations practice in violation of the county ordinance, the commission has the authority to direct the offending party to take appropriate corrective action.
A spokesperson for the district attorney’s office referred requests for comment to counsel. Grimm said he had not yet had a chance to read the decision and declined to comment further.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company