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Can't we all get along?

By Megan Kinneyn | Jul. 2, 2007
News

Law Office Management

Jul. 2, 2007

Can't we all get along?

In contract negotiations, Los Angeles prosecutors would rather go it alone than join their interests with those of public defenders. By Donna Horowitz

By Donna Horowitz
      Edited by Jeanette Borzo
     
      Public attorneys in Los Angeles bang heads, again.
      For public attorneys not already in unions, increasing caseloads and stagnant wages have prompted a renewed push for collective-bargaining agreements. In Los Angeles County, however, organizing has been slowed by a history of bad blood between prosecutors and public defenders. Now the prosecutors are seeking a separate bargaining unit, and the county is still figuring out what to do about it.
      The most recent efforts to unionize, begun in 2005, are coming to a head after two public hearings this spring. The dispute at this stage of the saga pits the county's Chief Administrative Office against the deputy district attorneys. The county wants all of its attorneys?deputy DAs, public defenders, alternate PDs, and child-support attorneys?in a single bargaining unit. The deputy DAs adamantly oppose that idea. A hearing officer was scheduled to review briefs from both sides last month and then pass along his recommendation to the county Employee Relations Commission for resolution.
      "We have unique issues as prosecutors that cannot be addressed in a bargaining unit with the very people we do battle against," says Steven J. Ipsen, president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA) in Los Angeles. "The only thing we have in common with public defenders is that we're paid the same. In every other respect, we lack a common interest."
      Ipsen says his group, which includes about 1,000 attorneys, takes sharply different positions from the public defenders on such legal issues as Jessica's Law and the three-strikes law. But according to general collective-bargaining principles, he says, prosecutors need only show they can form "an appropriate union," not necessarily a perfect one.
      Jim Adams, head of employee relations at the Chief Administrative Office, contends that all attorney groups belong in a single union because they share a "community of interest."
      That would be hard to prove from comments at the two public hearings. Several public attorneys testified in late March that deputy DAs and PDs bickered so much in their previous union, they were unable to choose bargaining representatives. In 1988 the union asked the county for permission to form separate units, but its petition was declared moot in 1989 when the Employee Relations Commission granted an earlier request by members to decertify and work without representation.
      Steve Lopez, a deputy DA and editor of the ADDA newsletter, points out that Los Angeles County did not object to creating a separate unit in 1992 during an earlier unsuccessful organizing campaign. "To me, it's baffling," he says.
      To be sure, PD/DA unions work in other counties, such as Mendocino. In March, the 29-member Mendocino County Public Attorneys Association?a unit of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters that includes deputy DAs, PDs, and child-support attorneys?walked off the job in a one-week strike over low wages and lack of civil service protections.
      Matt Finnegan, a deputy DA and president of the association, says the attorneys called off the strike after the county brought in a state mediator. He says there has never been resistance among members to sharing a bargaining unit. "Through the process (of strike and negotiations), the DAs and PDs have become a close-knit unit," Finnegan adds. "We deal with each other on a daily basis, and feel the need to stick together. You have to learn to get along."
     
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Megan Kinneyn

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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