Judge Rules Against San Bernardino Firefighter Appeals In Bankruptcy

A U.S. District Court judge on Thursday slapped down what he called “a trilogy of merit-less appeals” that the San Bernardino firefighters union had made seeking reversals of bankruptcy court decisions against them.

The three opinions by Judge Otis D. Wright II affirm rulings that favored the city at firefighters’ expense — and they do so in language highly critical of the union.

“The city’s willingness to meet and compromise, and the union’s stubbornness, is quite apparent from the wealth of e-mail traffic between the parties,” Wright says in one of three decisions filed Thursday. “The union’s claim that the evidence regarding reasonable efforts is ‘scant’ is a misrepresentation of the evidence.”

At other points in the 47 pages of opinion, he describes the arguments in favor of appeal as “vapid,” “surprisingly merit-less,” “befuddled,” and “legally unsupported and lazy.”

Fire union attorney Corey Glave and union President Jeff English did not immediately return phone calls.

All three appeals were filed in February.

The first decision appealed by the union was bankruptcy Judge Meredith Jury’s decision in September to reject the city’s collective bargaining agreement with the union. The City Council followed that by imposing a new contract that reduced firefighter compensation, among other changes.

The second decision denied the fire union’s attempt to lift the stay that prevents lawsuits against bankrupt entities, so they could argue that the city hadn’t followed state law in its negotiations. Jury made that decision the same day.

Finally, the union sought to appeal another of its motions for reliefs from stay, arguing that the bankruptcy court lacked the authority to “reinstate” a stay they argue lapsed because the court waited longer than 30 days to rule on the union’s stay motion.

That is a hypothetical question that the court can’t answer until it is determined that the automatic stay had, in fact, lapsed, Wright said.

Other lawsuits by the San Bernardino City Professional Firefighters continue, including one arguing that the terms imposed on firefighters once the prior contact was rejected violate the city charter.

Wright’s decisions continue a long-standing battle that has only intensified since the city’s 2012 bankruptcy filing over attempts to limit the amount spent on the Fire Department — currently $28 million, which is 24 percent of the general fund budget.

That battle has contributed to a “mass exodus” of firefighters frustrated with what they say is a lack of appreciation from the city, with 10 leaving in the first five months of 2015.

Meanwhile, the city’s efforts to limit costs continued this week, with a closed-door meeting of three entities that could bid to provide fire services for the city.

Officials say May 14 is when they’ll first make public their detailed bankruptcy exit plan, the Plan of Adjustment, which is due in bankruptcy court May 30.

From The San Bernadino Sun