Wednesday, October 1, 2003
Deputy Sickout Causes Delays, Brief Closures in County Courts
Supervisors Vote to Seek Injunction Barring Continuation of Protest
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
A rolling sickout of sheriff’s deputies entering its second week hit the Los Angeles Superior Court hard yesterday, with about a quarter of all courtroom deputies not showing up for work, causing delays and brief court closures.
County supervisors voted to seek an injunction which would bar deputies from continuing the protest over stalled contract negotiations.
The deputies’ union disclaimed responsibility for the work action, characterizing it as a spontaneous expression of employee frustration. But the sickout has moved methodically from transportation services to custody deputies to court bailiffs over the last eight weekdays, its effect on the court system escalating as tonight’s expiration of a fringe benefits contract approached.
Yesterday, 224 of 920 deputies called in sick from the Central, East and West Bureaus of Court Services, county officials reported. They broke down the absences as 137 of 252 Central Bureau deputies, 34 of 332 East Bureau deputies, and 53 out of 336 West Bureau deputies.
The four downtown courthousesóthe Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, the Central Arraignment Courthouse and the Metropolitan Courthouseówere briefly closed to all visitors other than court employees and jurors in the early morning hours, a court spokesperson said, but were able to open after the Sheriff’s Department redeployed deputies to replace the missing workers.
Other affected courthouses were the Central Civil West, Airport, Glendale, Pasadena, Bellflower, Mental Health, Inglewood, Long Beach facilities. All were subject to at least intermittent interruptions in operations, according to the spokesperson.
County and court officials and representatives of the District Attorney’s Office and Public Defender’s Office said no statistics were available on the number of cases delayed or continued. Arraignments and some other hearings were continuing into the evening hours, they reported.
“Today hurts,” sheriff’s spokesperson Steve Whitmore said. “Nonessential” defendants missed court appearances in many cases, he added.
Chief Deputy Public Defender Robert Kalunian said there was “no crisis, but it wasn’t a great day” for his office. “If it happens tomorrow it’s going to get worse,” he declared.
Acting Assistant Public Defender for Operations John Vacca said he was not aware of any cases in which defendants had been prevented from being tried within legally mandated time limits, but said that could change if the work action continues.
Steve Remige, vice president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, said the union is not behind the sickout.
“We’re actually in the dark here,” Remige said.
County and union officials negotiated Monday from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m., and resumed this afternoon, he said. He noted that the deputies’ pay contract expired Jan. 31 and the fringe benefits contract was to expire at midnight yesterday.
He said there has been “very, very minimal movement” in the negotiations.
ALADS has “never condoned any type of work actions” by deputies, Remige said.
If someone is coordinating the sickout, Remige said, “it’s unbeknownst to me who it is.” But he added that whoever is behind it is “doing a pretty good job.”
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said he expects attorneys for the county to go to court today to seek a temporary restraining order, and eventually an injunction, blocking the deputies from staging sickouts.
“We want to bring this to a close, but it’s not going to be brought to a close [with] these kinds of tactics” by the deputies, Yaroslavsky said.
“We could be releasing [accused] felons onto the streets” of Los Angeles County because deputies are not showing up to work, he added.
Signs posted on a number of doors yesterday morning stated courtrooms were closed due to unforeseen circumstances. But at least some of the signs were removed later.
Officials reassigned deputies from other areas to cover the assignments of their absent colleagues, Whitmore said.
On Monday, about 280 of the roughly 1,700 deputies assigned to the county’s seven jails called in sick, after scores of corrections officers called in last week.
Supervisor Don Knabe, who is on vacation, was absent from the 4-0 closed-session vote to seek court intervention in the labor dispute.
County Counsel Lloyd Pellman told the board in open session that the Sheriff’s Department is taking deputies from other assignments to keep the criminal courts operating.
Yaroslavsky asked if that was the reason the jails were in a 24-hour lockdown earlier this week. Pellman said that could be the case.
“And as a matter of course are we permitted to engage in 24-hour lockdowns in the jail in order to better manage the department, or do we have a potential legal issue there?” Yaroslavsky asked.
Pellman responded that “any time...the department puts the jail into a lockdown, that can lead to other potential legal issues.”
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company