Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Court of Appeal: El Dorado County Violated DSA's Rights

In El Dorado County Deputy Sheriff's Association v. County of El Dorado, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court to find the County violated the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act by eliminating deputy sheriff positions without meeting and consulting with DSA.  The Court decided the County's actions are invalid and the County must meet and consult with the DSA on the issue.

In 2011, the County deleted several positions from the DSA's bargaining unit as part of a plan to civilianize perimeter security at county courthouses.  The County claimed it did not have to give the DSA notice it was deleting the positions.  However, the County had a local labor relations rule stating "The [County] shall, after notice and consultation with affected employee organizations, allocate new classifications or positions, delete eliminated classifications or positions..."  The Court held this local rule required the County to give notice and engage in consultation with the DSA before it eliminated its positions.

The County tried to get out of its obligations by claiming that MMBA section 3505 does not require the County to engage with the DSA before deleting positions and that requiring the County to consult with the DSA somehow interfered with the authority of the board of supervisors over the County's budget.  The Court rejected both claims.

As the Court noted, Government Code section 3507.1 allows local governments to create their own, local labor relations rules as long as those rules comply with the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act.  As a result, different local governments often have somewhat different rules for labor relations.  In this case, the Court of Appeal made clear section 3507.1 "requires a local public agency to follow its own rules."  Thus, it doesn't matter if the same rule would apply in another jurisdiction without the same local rule.

Mastagni Holstedt, APC attorneys Kathleen N. Mastagni Storm and Jeffrey R. A. Edwards represented the El Dorado DSA in the appeal.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Officers Are Entitled To Reasonable Prior Notice Of The Subject Matter Of An Interrogation

The Second District Court of Appeal recently ruled in Ellins v. City of Sierra Madre (Jan. 28, 2016) that public safety officers must be given notice of the specific subject matter of an investigation "reasonably prior to" an interrogation so that they have sufficient time to consult with a representative.

Officer John Ellins allegedly used the CLETS database to do unofficial searches of his ex-girlfriend. The Sierra Madre Police Department opened an investigation into Ellins' conduct after receiving a tip from the ex-girlfriend. The Department gave a vague notice to Ellins that it was investigating "an alleged abuse of your peace officer powers and duties." Minutes before the interrogation was to begin, the Department told Ellins the specific allegations. The Department then gave Ellins an hour to consult with his attorney representative.

POBR provides that an officer under investigation "shall be informed of the nature of the investigation prior to any interrogation." (Gov. Code, sec. 3303(c).) The Court of Appeal held this means “'reasonably prior to' the interrogation—that is, with enough time for the officer to meaningfully consult with any representative he elects to have present."

The Court rejected the Department's argument that notice can be given only minutes before an interrogation.  But the Court declined to set a hard rule about how far in advance notice must be given.  it stated the amount of time will depend on the circumstances, including whether the officer needs time to obtain a representative, the complexity of the allegations, the number of unrelated allegations, and any risk the officer will retaliate against persons involved in the investigation or will destroy evidence.

The Court explained notice allows officers to prepare for the interrogation and identify justifications, explanations, extenuating circumstances, and other mitigating factors. If an officer is not given adequate prior notice of the subject matter of the interview and time to consult with his representative, he cannot get effective help and protection from his representative.