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Ventura County

2 Prosecutors Ordered Reinstated

Panel says attorneys, who allege they were demoted for backing the wrong D.A. candidate, weren't just transferred. County fights back.

October 25, 2002|Tracy Wilson | Times Staff Writer

The Civil Service Commission on Thursday ordered Ventura County to reinstate two prosecutors who contend they were demoted for backing the wrong candidate for district attorney, or explain why they were reassigned.

The order, which requires a response by Nov. 25, finds that Adam Pearlman and Mark Pachowicz were removed from their jobs as felony prosecutors, and not just transferred to the county's Child Support Division.

Outside the hearing room Thursday, the two embattled lawyers praised the unanimous ruling and said they hope to return to trying criminal cases by the end of next month.

But their fight may be a long way from over.

County attorneys filed Superior Court papers Wednesday accusing the Civil Service Commission of overstepping its authority. The writ contends the commission has no jurisdiction to hear the employees' grievances.

"It doesn't follow the normal rules," said Leroy Smith, assistant county counsel. "We hope that between now and Nov. 25 we can get a court ruling that they don't have jurisdiction."

County lawyers and retiring Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury insist that Pearlman and Pachowicz were reassigned, not demoted. And they contend the commission has no authority to hear employee appeals of such reassignments.

The county's personnel rules generally define a demotion as a change in employment that results in a lower salary.

Smith contends Pachowicz, Pearlman and Vivian Rackauckas, a third prosecutor who was transferred to child support two years before the election, were reassigned without suffering a reduction in pay. Rackauckas appealed the transfer because she fears she will lose employee benefits.

But Pearlman and Pachowicz contend they were transferred to child support, now a separate county agency, as punishment for backing the candidate who challenged Bradbury's hand-picked successor.

Both attorneys publicly backed Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Bamieh, who lost to Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Greg Totten in the March 5 election.

On Thursday, Bradbury and Totten referred questions to the county counsel's office.

Bradbury has previously denied retaliating against the two lawyers.

Meanwhile, Pearlman and Pachowicz accused the county and their former boss of trying to prevent a hearing on the election issue by challenging the commission's decision in court.

"It is clear that the county doesn't want a hearing, and the question everyone has to ask is 'why?' " Pachowicz said. "They are going to do everything in their power to make sure the public doesn't know what happened."

But Smith countered that if the two lawyers want to allege retaliation, they should put those claims in a lawsuit and not raise them before the Civil Service Commission.

In their writ, county lawyers argue that if employees were allowed to dispute transfers to the commission, it "would paralyze the ability of department heads to operate the machinery of government."

Smith said he hopes the court will take up the writ before Nov. 25.

If not, he said, the county could choose not to respond to the order, allow the commission to reinstate the three lawyers and then appeal that ruling in court by arguing the commission abused its discretion.

Pearlman and Pachowicz said they hope Totten, the incoming district attorney who takes over Nov. 1, will simply reinstate them rather than fight the issue.

"We want to get what we've asked for, and the sooner the better," Pearlman said.

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