Monday, November 2, 2009
ADDA Sues Cooley, Claims Retaliation for Exercising Rights
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The Association of Deputy District Attorneys on Friday filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California accusing Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley and senior managers of violating the First Amendment by retaliating against the union’s supporters and members.
According to a 43-page complaint filed by the union and an unnamed deputy district attorney, Cooley, the county and others engaged in discriminatory acts such as transferring senior union members to assignments generally reserved for young, inexperienced prosecutors, which amount to “a career death sentence.”
The union bills itself as the largest prosecutors union in the country and was certified as the collective bargaining unit for Los Angeles’ deputy district attorneys in March 2008. It counts 300 deputy district attorneys as members, and said in its complaint that the assignments often involve substantial commutes from prosecutors’ residences and are referred to by the defendants as “freeway therapy.”
The complaint also names as defendants Chief Deputy District Attorney John Spillane, Bureau Director John Zajec, and Assistant District Attorneys Curtis Hazell and Jacquelyn Lacey, and claims the defendants are retaliating against union-represented prosecutors by threatening to reduce their health-care benefits beginning next January.
The union’s executive vice president and litigation co-chair—Hyatt Seligman, a 30-year veteran of the office—asserted that Cooley was “attempting to destroy our careers and compromise our health care merely because we chose to form a union.” He insisted that “[j]oining a union is a right for all Americans and is protected under the First Amendment.”
Seligman, the complaint said, suffered a punitive transfer just two days after questioning the veracity of the Cooley administration’s denials that such actions occurred within the office at a meeting.
Union board member and former President James Bozajian, a 19-year office veteran, said that the “rank-and file” had endured nine years of anti-union activity and “we finally decided it was time to take it to a higher level and to let the public know.”
He denied that the lawsuit was in any way politically or ideologically motivated, maintaining “we just want the ability to work…without unlawful obstruction from the administration.”
Bozajian emphasized that he was transferred eight times in eight years in retaliation for his union activities, and that “everyone that has taken an active part in the union has been punished in some way.”
Other victims named by the complaint include union President Steve Ipsen, who unsuccessfully challenged Cooley in the last election, Deputy District Attorney Robert Dver, a 24-year veteran prosecutor and former assistant head deputy of the training division, and ADDA Vice President Marc Debbaudt, a onetime Los Angeles Superior Court candidate. They could not be reached for comment.
Bozajian posited that the actual instances of discrimination “probably would number in the thousands,” as there were “always day-to-day slights that couldn’t be included” in the complaint.
Montana attorney Matthew G. Monforton, counsel for the union, commented that “it’s shocking that you have a D.A. that’s calling his own deputies ‘contaminated’ ” for having joined the union.
He suggested that the defendants were concerned that there was a “critical mass of deputies that are standing up to the bullying and the illegalities within the office,” such as forbidding prosecutors from, or punishing them for, complying with their obligation to disclose exculpatory materials as required by Brady v. Maryland (1963) 373 U.S. 83.
Monforton insisted that such “systemic corruption” was “simply outrageous and unconstitutional.”
The attorney added that the use of district attorney investigators to harass union members “makes Cooley’s actions nothing less than 19th century union busting camouflaged as 21st century office management.”
Requests for comment by Cooley’s office were referred to Deputy County Counsel Manuel A. Valenzuela Jr., who could not be reached.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company