STOCKTON, CA – A judge on Thursday issued a string of rulings in Stockton’s fight with its police union over the city breaking their contract amid financial crisis.
Attorneys on both sides interpreted the preliminary rulings as outright victories in the ongoing case.
San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Lesley Holland found grounds for the city to proceed with its claim that the police union bought the house next door to City Manager Bob Deis solely to harass and intimidate him.
San Francisco attorney Jon Holtzman, who represents the city, said that shows the Stockton Police Officers’ Association violated fair labor practices, a central issue in the case.
“That’s pretty serious,” Holtzman said. “I consider this not just a victory, but a major victory.”
His opponent, Sacramento attorney David P. Mastagni, said the union won the day because the judge ruled police never had to come back to the bargaining table to renegotiate a new contract.
That proves Stockton didn’t have a right to break their contract with the police union in the first place, he said.
Mastagni said the city wasted its money on high-priced lawyers.
“Stockton has spent $2 million throwing confetti in the air,” he said. “For once, the little guy totally won.”
Attorneys met in Holland’s courtroom last month for the first major hearing in the case. The stakes in this bitter dispute are high.
This came before a judge because the city over the last two years declared a fiscal emergency, which city officials said allowed them to impose pay cuts to its labor groups.
If police ultimately prevail in court, the city says it will have to pay up to $10 million in back wages. While the case is far from over, a blow of this magnitude threatens to send the city into bankruptcy.
Union officials have said that’s not their goal. Rather, a win would give them a bargaining chip when they negotiate their next contract.
Holland also ruled that Stockton’s attorneys didn’t spell out in court papers the specific authority the city invoked to nullify its contracts with police. The city’s attorneys now have two weeks to rewrite its case.
The revision, Holtzman said, involves simply adding a few sentences to their written arguments, explaining the city’s inherent right to break a contract under emergency circumstances.
“He wants a technical change in wording, which is fine,” Holtzman said. “We have to go and specify.”
While the police union didn’t break any laws by purchasing the home next to Deis, Holland concluded, he made disparaging comparisons against the police actions, implicating their bad-faith bargaining.
The judge compared the union to a stalker who shows up while the victim shops or a biker gang that drives en masse, “banners waving,” past the prosecutors’ homes on their way to court where a club member is on trial.
Based on his ruling, a judge or jury at trial will ultimately decide if the home deal amounts to an intimidation tactic.
The judge dismissed a motion filed by the police union seeking to punish the city for their counter suit, which would burden them with legal fees and chill the officers’ desire to defend themselves.
The judge did not rule on the alleged role David French, a long retired Stockton police officer, played in leading the union to buy the home next to Deis. Holland assigned a court referee to help both sides settle that dispute.
The judge’s rulings Thursday address the city’s counter suit. It doesn’t yet address the union’s underlying lawsuit. Holland set the case for its next hearing on May 3.
From The Stockton Record.