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Deputies Fight Creation of Review Panel


The collective bargaining unit that represents most of the 1,349 deputies and officers of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department is taking the first legal steps to overturn a voter-approved citizens review panel created to investigate possible department misconduct.

Attorneys for the Deputy Sheriff's Assn. are seeking a temporary restraining order today to keep county supervisors from moving forward with plans to put the panel in place by March.

DSA attorneys have already filed a complaint in Superior Court alleging that the county did not "meet and confer" with DSA representatives before they placed the measure, called Proposition A, on the November ballot.

The public review panel, whose creation was overwhelmingly approved by voters, will be empowered to investigate citizen complaints, including instances of excessive force, sexual harassment, improper shootings, illegal search and seizure, false arrest, criminal conduct and misconduct.

In legal papers delivered to the county this week and to be presented today to Superior Court Judge Wayne Peterson, DSA attorneys Byron Georgiou and Fern Steiner are asking that the county be stopped from proceeding with its plans to approve the ordinance that would create the panel.

County supervisors have sent a draft ordinance for circulation to community groups and organizations, and have asked citizens to apply for membership on the review panel. The board is scheduled to consider the ordinance Jan. 29 and Feb. 5 before adopting it, according to John Sansone, deputy county counsel.

DSA attorneys argue in legal briefings that creation of the review panel will change the terms and conditions deputies work under because the panel will have the authority to subpoena deputies' personnel records and to recommend discipline.

The county is required by law to negotiate with the sheriff's association regarding "wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment prior to arriving at a determination of policy or course of action," DSA attorneys said.

County attorney Sansone said county officials were not required to meet with DSA representatives before the supervisors put the measure on the ballot and still do not need to discuss the matter until after the panel is up and running.

"The charter amendment (putting the panel on the November ballot) had nothing to do with any terms of employment, had nothing to do with wages or benefits or salaries," Sansone said. The DSA "believes that somehow we should have met and conferred with them before it went on the ballot. I don't understand that logic."

Deputy County Counsel Valerie Tehan said the DSA had plenty of time this summer to comment on the ballot issue. In fact, she said, one ranking member of the group appeared before the Board of Supervisors in July when the matter was placed on the ballot but did not present the group's latest argument.

"Our concern is that the board has moved ahead and is committed to getting this going," Tehan said. "The train is pretty far down the track for them to be seeking a temporary restraining order."

Beyond the injunction, DSA attorneys also are seeking to have Proposition A overturned. In legal papers delivered this week to the county, DSA attorneys said they will ask the state attorney general for permission to sue the county to declare the election "null and void" for the same reasons it is seeking the temporary restraining order.

Such permission is required because the DSA is suing on behalf of the "people of the state of California," who normally are represented by the state attorney general.

Attorneys for the sheriff's association say that, although the county negotiated salaries and other collective bargaining issues between last February and August, it never brought the issue of the citizen review panel to the bargaining table.

According to a copy of the DSA's complaint, the organization sent the county a letter Dec. 6 reminding officials that they had not negotiated any element of the review panel during collective bargaining or any time thereafter.

County attorneys told a DSA attorney Dec. 7 and 10 that they would not meet with the sheriff's organization other than to provide information about how the review board will operate.

One of the DSA's arguments is based on a 1984 state Supreme Court ruling that involved the Seal Beach Police Officers Assn. The court held that the city could not place a charter amendment on a city ballot that would have given the city the right to fire any employee participating in a strike.

Sansone said Wednesday that the state Supreme Court decision does not apply in the review panel's case because creation of the panel itself does not affect whether or not someone can be fired.

The draft ordinance of the county review panel calls for 11 members, nominated by the county's chief administrative officer and selected by county supervisors. The ordinance also calls for four permanent staffers, including a full-time investigator and an executive director. The cost of the entire operation is estimated at about $337,000 a year.

If adopted in its existing form, the ordinance would, among other things, give the board the power to review and investigate any death resulting from an action of a sheriff's deputy or officer and to recommend discipline to the sheriff. It would also have the power to subpoena witnesses.

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