OC Sheriff's Union Defeats County in Court Ruling Over Jail Cost Savings Plan

A California Court of Appeal ruled late yesterday that Orange County officials had treated the local sheriff's deputy union unfairly and upheld a lower court's decision to issue a temporary restraining order blocking the county from instituting annual jail personnel cost savings of between $24 million and $34 million.

The 25-page decision written by Justice Richard D. Fybel was a huge victory for the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs (AOCDS) and Mark Nichols, the union's executive director, who'd repeatedly told county officials over the years that they cannot replace deputy jobs with civilians in jail custody positions without first meeting and conferring with AOCDS.

That battle resulted in AOCDS suing the county and the sheriff's department in 2010, and demanding a temporary restraining order blocking any reduction in deputy jail positions.

Superior Court Judge Kazuharu Makino granted that request until the entire case can be resolved.

County officials appealed Makino's ruling, claiming that it was improper because the union wasn't likely to prevail in the lawsuit.

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and county officials also argued that they should be "exempt" from the "meet and confer" requirements of the contract with the union because they are trying to improve "the economical and efficient operation of local government."

(Specifically, they want to replace well paid deputies with cheaper, trained civilians in basic jail jobs that have little or no inmate contact.)

But Fybel and the two other members of his appellate court panel--justices Kathleen O'Leary and Raymond Ikola--determined that the county's position regarding exemption is not supported by California case law.

"The trial court did not abuse its discretion by concluding a preliminary injunction should be issued pending trial in this matter, after balancing the likelihood the Association would prevail on its claims and the relative harm the Association and defendants would suffer as a result of the issuance or non-issuance of the preliminary injunction," wrote Justice Fybel.

The ruling is a special victory for Charles A. Goldwasser, the AOCDS attorney, and a loss for Nicholas S. Chrisos, county counsel. The justices declared that the union won't have to pay Goldwasser's bill for this appellate case. Local taxpayers will.

The case now returns to Judge Makino's court.

--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly


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