Friday, October 3, 2003
Courtroom Deputies, Faced With TRO, End Sickout
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Faced with a temporary restraining order, courtroom deputies yesterday ended a sickout that severely disrupted Los Angeles Superior Court operations Tuesday and Wednesday.
A court spokesperson said operations were back to normal with no reports of problems. A spokesperson for Sheriff Lee Baca said sick calls among court services deputies were below normal levels.
On Tuesday, 224 court services deputies called in sick, causing delays and brief courthouse closures. On Wednesday, the number climbed to 340, closing five courthouses for all or nearly all of the day.
The downtown Stanley Mosk Courthouse was unable to open until 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, delaying trials and hearings and resulting in long lines of attorneys and their clients outside the building.
County officials have put the total number of court services deputies at 920.
Wednesday afternoon, Orange Superior Court Judge John Watson—sitting as an assigned judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court—issued an order barring the deputies and their union from engaging in any work stoppage, slowdown, or sickout. Supervisors voted Tuesday to seek the order, and the case was moved to Watson’s Santa Ana courtroom when the union objected to any Los Angeles Superior Court judge hearing it.
Watson set an Oct. 14 hearing to decide whether a preliminary injunction should be granted.
The TRO also ordered the union, the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, to publicize the ban by placing a recorded message on its “hot line” stating that ALADS was calling for an end to the job action. Union officials have claimed throughout the sickout, which began Sept. 23, that they were not supporting or coordinating it.
Deputy County Counsel Pirjo L. Williams said the TRO had not yet been served on union officials by mid-afternoon yesterday. She said she expected service to be completed by the end of the day.
The message on the ALADS hotline yesterday afternoon stated it was for Wednesday, Oct. 1. Though it did not include the statement required by the TRO, it did mention that the county was seeking a court order ending the sickout and it stated that ALADS opposes any job action that would violate any law or Sheriff’s Department policy.
The TRO requires that the message be placed on the hotline “[w]ithin six (6) hours of service.”
Williams speculated that media coverage of the judge’s action contributed to the apparent end of the job action.
The union’s pay contract expired Jan. 31 and its fringe benefits contract expired Sept. 30. Union leaders have characterized negotiations as stalled and have attributed the sick calls to employee frustration.
County officials have rejected the union’s fringe benefits proposal, made three months ago, and have refused to make a counterproposal, union officials say.
The sickout was concentrated last week among deputies who provide transportation to court hearings for inmates and those in charge of the county’s jails. Those absences caused jail lockdowns, and lockdowns also occurred this week as custody deputies were shifted to the courts.
There were no reports of exceptional numbers of sick calls by patrol deputies.
The county has obtained injunctions against job actions twice in the past, in 1997 against deputies and in 2000 against nurses and other union workers.
John Vacca, the acting assistant public defender for operations, said he could not yet estimate the number of criminal defendants represented by his office whose cases had been delayed by the job action, but added that court calendars would be crowded for at least a few days.
“I don’t think it will be a massive impact,” he said.
At least one Superior Court judge was prepared to conduct a trial at an alternate location yesterday, had the sickout continued.
Judge Anthony Mohr said he arranged through Loyola Law School Professor Laurie Levenson to use one of the courtrooms at the school’s Girardi Advocacy Center in the afternoon. Mohr, a judge in the court’s complex litigation program, said he was reluctant to accept a delay because jurors are hearing expert testimony.
Rescheduling the appearance of an expert can be an expensive matter, Mohr pointed out.
Though court officials said the Central Civil West courthouse, where Mohr sits, was closed by the sickout Wednesday, the judge reported he was able to hold a morning session that day. His staff, jury, and parties were already assembled in the courtroom by the time the decision to close the facility was made, and he obtained special permission from Supervising Judge Carolyn Kuhl to remain, he said.
But Mohr said he decided to forgo an afternoon session, fearing jurors would be unable to reenter the building if they left for lunch.
The judge said that though he arranged for a courtroom, he had not approached the attorneys about a move to Loyola. Had the courthouse been closed yesterday, he said, he would have tried to assemble his staff, the jury, and the parties and witnesses outside the building.
Only if that proved practical and the lawyers agreed, he said, could the move to the mock court courtroom have been made.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company