Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Settlement Reportedly Near in Beverly Hills Deputies’ Contempt Case
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
A negotiated settlement may soon resolve contempt allegations against 10 Beverly Hills courthouse deputies who reported ill the day after a judge issued a preliminary injunction against a sickout, attorneys for Los Angeles County and the deputies said Monday.
Principal Deputy County Counsel Rick Brouwer and Vicki I. Podberesky of Nasatir, Hirsch, Podberesky & Genego in Santa Monica said discussions have been going on since soon after the deputies appeared before Orange Superior Court Judge John M. Watson in Santa Ana on Oct. 21. At that hearing, Watson set a Dec. 8 date for a contempt trial for the 10, their union, and nine union officials.
“So far it looks pretty favorable,” Brouwer said of the negotiations, adding: “I’m pretty optimistic that we’re reaching the tail end of it.”
“I’m hopeful. The parties are working hard at trying to reach an agreement that will hopefully meet Judge Watson’s approval.”
Watson, to whom the case was transferred after all Los Angeles Superior Court judges recused themselves, had also set a Nov. 6 hearing to determine whether the county had made out a prima facie case that the deputies and the union had violated his Oct. 14 injunction. The 10 deputies assigned to the Beverly Hills courthouse called in sick Oct. 15, delaying the opening of some courtrooms.
More than 30 other courtroom deputies also called in sick that day, causing delays at three other courthouses in the western part of the county, as did over 200 deputies assigned to six jails. But county officials have reported little or no sickout activity since.
Asked whether he felt the threat of contempt proceedings had been instrumental in halting the sickout, which began in late September and has involved more than 500 deputies, Brouwer responded:
Podberesky said the Nov. 6 hearing was taken off calendar, county lawyers have yet to formalize contempt charges, and the Dec. 8 appearance will become a trial setting conference if a settlement has not been reached by then. Brouwer said the Dec. 8 date remains on Watson’s calendar chiefly as a “reminder” to the parties that the judge continues to supervise the case.
Brouwer and Podberesky declined to comment on the possible terms of any settlement. Their negotiations have dealt only with the contempt charges and have not been a part of efforts to settle the underlying contract dispute, Brouwer said.
County spokesperson Judy Hammond said Friday that fringe benefits negotiations between the county and ALADS are ongoing. A retirement proposal including multiple options has been sent to the Los Angeles County Employees’ Retirement Association for actuarial analysis, with a report due back by mid-December, she said.
Hammond said the parties are committed to meeting within 30 days after that analysis is completed to take up retirement proposals. She added that discussions on the deputies’ salary contract are set to resume Dec. 2.
ALADS has consistently denied that it organized, coordinated or encouraged the sickout, attributing it to employee frustration over stalled negotiations. The union’s pay contract expired Jan. 31 and its fringe benefits contract expired Sept. 30.
An ALADS spokesperson and the attorney representing the union and its officials, Harold A. Ducote Jr. of Ducote & Frasca in Costa Mesa, declined to comment.
Watson’s injunction bars the deputies and their union from participating in any job action, including a sickout. The injunction replaced a similar temporary restraining order which Watson issued Oct. 1.
If tried and convicted of contempt the deputies could be jailed for five days and fined $1,000 for each act which violated the preliminary injunction.
A sheriff’s spokesperson said Friday that about 500 deputies have been listed as suspended for days on which they reported ill during the sickout.
On Oct. 8 the Board of Supervisors, citing provisions of the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act which permit suspension of the law’s “meet-and-confer” requirements in emergencies, found an emergency existed and authorized Sheriff Lee Baca to make temporary reassignments as required to cope with the job action. If absenteeism due to the job action in any deputies’ unit reaches 20 percent, the emergency resolution permits Baca to dock the pay of absent deputies and suspend them without advance notice for up to five days.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company