Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Judge Says He Is Inclined to Enjoin Cooley in ADDA Case
By Sherri M. Okamoto, Staff Writer
A federal judge said yesterday he was inclined to grant a preliminary injunction preventing Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley and his administration from discriminating or retaliating against unionized prosecutors, but declined to issue a ruling from the bench.
U.S. District Court Judge Otis D. Wright II of the Central District of California made the statement at a hearing on a motion by the Association of Deputy District Attorneys and an unnamed member who accuse Cooley and senior managers of constitutional violations based on attempts to quash the fledging union.
Montana attorney Matthew G. Monforton, counsel for the collective bargaining unit for Los Angeles’ deputy district attorneys, said that “it is sad that the chief law enforcement officer of the county needs a federal order to require him to follow the law,” adding that it would be “unprecedented” for such an injunction to issue.
However, counsel for the county—David Wilson of Manning & Marder, Kass, Elrod, Ramirez LLP—denied that there was “any factual basis for the court to issue the order the plaintiffs have asked for.”
Wilson said that he would be providing the court with the additional information Wright had requested regarding the county’s health-care benefits program and that he was “looking forward to a favorable outcome.”
The motion alleged that union members and supporters have been subjected to transfers to assignments involving long commutes generally reserved for young, inexperienced prosecutors; demoted or downgraded in job assignments; and forced to pay higher rates for medical insurance than non-unionized colleagues.
ADDA members pay about $100 more per month to receive the same health benefits as other county employees, which is “pretty substantial for a government employee,” Monforton said.
Drop in Membership
Union President Steve Ipsen, who unsuccessfully challenged Cooley in the last election, said the cost differential was “obscene” and has caused the union’s membership to drop from a high of approximately 800 of the office’s 1,000 members, to about 300.
He contended the county uses the denial of health care benefits “as a tactic to break up unions,” and that “they’ve done it twice before,” noting the California Court of Appeal’s 1985 decision in Los Angeles County Employees Association, Local 660, v. County of Los Angeles 168 Cal.App.3d 683, which held the county had unlawfully discriminated against the employees of unions which declined to sign a settlement agreement with the county when it did not implement certain health-care insurance benefits which it had granted to settling unions.
Ipsen also pointed to the Court of Appeal’s 2005 decision in Union of Amer. Physicians & Dentists v. Los Angeles ERCOM 131 Cal.App.4th 386 that the county could not unilaterally deny unionized physicians and dentists superior health benefits programs available to non-unionized employees.
“They refuse to learn, and need to stop,” he declared.
Monforton said the requested injunction would be “forward-looking” only and would not address the allegations of past discrimination by Cooley, Chief Deputy District Attorney John Spillane, Bureau Director John Zajec and Assistant District Attorneys Curtis Hazell and Jacquelyn Lacey.
“We’re still litigating the past instances of discrimination” involving allegations by Ipsen, Deputy District Attorney Robert Dver and ADDA Vice President Marc Debbaudt, Monforton said, both in federal court and before the county Employee Relations Commission. The commission has been inquiring into alleged violations of the Los Angeles County Employee Relations Ordinance for the past year.
Dver is a 24-year veteran prosecutor and former assistant head deputy of the training division, and Debbaudt is a onetime Los Angeles Superior Court candidate.
Monforton added: “We’re only scratching the surface at this point.”
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company