Thursday, November 7, 2013
Lavin Throws Out Labor Practices Ruling Against D.A.’s Office
Bias Tainted Employee Relations Commission Decision Favoring ADDA, Judge Says
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has tossed out an Employee Relations Commission ruling in favor of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, saying it was tainted by bias and improper ex parte communications.
Judge Luis Lavin, in a decision handed down Oct. 28, said the District Attorney’s Office was entitled to a new hearing on the union’s charges that some of its members and officers were involuntarily transferred to new assignments in retaliation for labor activity.
The judge there was substantial evidence of bias on the part of the commission, and said the District Attorney’s Office must be afforded a new hearing, “to be conducted by a neutral and unbiased hearing officer.”
The judge criticized Thomas Kerrigan, an ERCOM hearing officer, who three years ago found that then-District Attorney Steve Cooley was responsible for “continuing acts committed to destroy a labor union and damage the careers of senior deputies.”
Kerrigan’s report was subsequently adopted by the commission, along with suggested remedies that included the undoing of the complained-of transfers, including that of union Vice President Marc Debbaudt.
The ruling was largely based on emails obtained by the District Attorney’s Office after ERCOM ruled, which showed that Steven Ipsen—who was the union’s president from 2002 to 2009—and others in the ADDA had engaged in ex parte communications with ERCOM’s then-executive director, Paul Causey. The communications showed that Causey relayed the union’s concerns to Kerrigan, who had been Causey’s law partner for some 20 years and who Causey had assigned to the case.
The emails also showed that Causey had advised Ipsen, Debbaudt, and the union as to how they should proceed in the case, Lavin said, and had forwarded an email that was graphically disparaging of Cooley to Kerrigan.
Causey, the judge said, “was heavily involved in the ERCOM decision making process” and communicated about the case, by email, with the then-chair of the commission, Doug Collins. In one instance, he told Collins that the district attorney “sought to destroy the union.”
In another instance, Causey advised Kerrigan to deny a continuance sought by the District Attorney’s Office, based on what Ipsen had told him, and admonished Kerrigan that the true reason should not be put on the record, and it wasn’t, Lavin said. Similarly, the judge found, Collins denied a request by the district attorney to submit additional briefing, based on undisclosed advice by Causey that the union was “teetering and out of money” as a result of the long battle over its unfair labor practice charges.
Causey also appeared to have a personal relationship with Ipsen, Lavin noted, citing emails showing the union head invited Causey to a “complimentary lunch” on “National Remembrance Day” and that he took Causey to show him an “exotic Italian sports car” and allowed him to drive it, in November 2009.
The ultimate inference, the judge said, is that information that was not a part of the record had an undue impact on the decision.
Ipsen, who was fired from the District Attorney’s Office last year by Cooley, responded to the decision in an email, emphasizing that he was not a party or a witness in the case, and that he was speaking for himself and not the union.
“From what I read, this is a bad decision and a motion for reconsideration and/or appeal should be filed,” he said.
“I do know that when I went to ERCOM, Mr. Causey regularly stated that he invited both sides into his office if we had questions or complaints about the process, and that he met with both sides in every case,” Ipsen wrote. “Mr. Causey made clear that he was in fact meeting regularly with the other side....I understand from comments I have heard from persons involved in the case, that there was evidence of ex-parte communications on both sides”
He added that it was “patently wrong that the county can attack a decision on the grounds that their own system, and their own employee [Causey] acted improperly.” Given the chronic underfunding of ERCOM, he said, the appropriate thing to do would be to abolish the commission and turn its functions over to the state Public Employee Relations Board.
Debbaudt could not be reached for comment, and Deputy County Counsel Julie Ann Silva, who represented the District Attorney’s Office, said she never discusses pending litigation.
Causey is no longer the commission’s executive director. Jim Adams, the county’s deputy chief executive officer in charge of labor relations, said he believed Causey had resigned, but that he was unfamiliar with the details.
Collins and the other two members of ERCOM resigned in September, reportedly because of disagreement with a proposed provision in the county’s contract with the commission’s hearing officers. Adams said ERCOM is “in the process of being reconstituted.”
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company