The state police union argued in federal court Tuesday against sections of a new police accountability law that could result in public disclosure of information in trooper personnel files that is now sealed by the union’s contract.
At the same time, the union said its members had voted no confidence by wide margins in the state police leadership and in Gov. Ned Lamont, who signed the police reform legislation into law in late July.
The troopers claim parts of comprehensive police legislation enacted in July singles them out unfairly and unconstitutionally voids privacy protections negotiated in their three-year contract adopted last year. They base the challenge on federal Constitutional language limiting the ability of states to interfere with valid contracts.
The legislature ratified the state police union contract in the spring of 2019 and then voided sections a year later by passing the reform law. By nullifying some contract language, the new law makes trooper personnel files subject to disclosure under state public records laws.
Specifically, the union is opposed to a contract change that would give the public access to complaints against troopers that were determined to have been unfounded. They also are challenging the loss of contract language that would give them notice of requests for disclosure of personnel records so they can make privacy right arguments against release.
The union is asking for a court order to immediately stop the department from enforcing sections of the new law that conflict with the contract. U.S. District Judge Charles S. Haight, Jr. did not rule immediately.
Proloy K. Das, attorney for the union, which sued public safety Commissioner James Rovella in August, argued that the reform law “seeks to obliterate” the troopers’ contract. Das also said the legislature’s own research bureau published an analysis questioning the constitutionality of those parts of the reform law in conflict with the contract.
Assistant state Attorney General Michael Skold, representing Rovella, argued that the legislature’s modification of the contract was permissible — and foreseeable — because it was done to further the public’s interest in making police officers more accountable.
“I guess what puzzles me is how can you reasonably foresee the actions of a legislature which is as unpredictable as to approve a collective bargaining agreement that says one thing and then, not that long afterward, pass a statute that wipes it out?” Haight asked. “Is that the sort of conduct on the part of the legislature that the union should predictably foresee?”
Skold replied, “The question is not whether the change was foreseeable but that you are operating in an area that is subject to regulation. … When you are in an area where the government regulates, the government can continue to regulate.”
The union has said its no confidence vote was based, in part, on department leadership’s failure to support the contract. The union said 716 of its 850 members voted. It said 97.3% voted no confidence in Lamont, 96.4% voted no confidence in Rovella and 96.6% voted no confidence in Lt. Col. John Eckersley.
Brian Foley, an aide to Rovella, said a vote of no confidence has been a threat the union has made for some time and has been threatened against past leadership.
“This changes nothing,” he said. “This doesn’t effect how the troopers operate. It doesn’t effect the great work they do. It doesn’t effect any citizen of the state’s public safety … it effects absolutely nothing. This is political posturing by union leadership. This is not Connecticut state police. It is not state police troopers. This is union leadership.”
Foley went on to say that union leadership contacted troopers urging them to vote no confidence.
From The Hartford Courant