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Ventura County

Lawyers' Transfer Reviewed

Dispute: Civil service panel will consider case of two prosecutors who say they were demoted for political reasons.

September 27, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

By a narrow margin, the Ventura County Civil Service Commission agreed Thursday to hear an appeal by two prosecutors who contend they were demoted for backing the wrong candidate for district attorney.

Commissioners voted 3 to 2 to hear the appeal despite arguments that they have no authority to take up the case. An attorney representing the prosecutors praised the decision, while lawyers for the county called it vague and unprecedented. Retiring Dist. Atty. Michael Bradbury vowed to challenge it in court.

"The only grounds on which the commission has jurisdiction and can overturn department heads is for a demotion or discharge, and this was neither," Bradbury said. "The laws are pretty clear: They have no jurisdiction."

Mark Pachowicz and Adam Pearlman are fighting to return to the district attorney's office after being transferred to the child support enforcement division three weeks after the March 5 election.

They contend they were transferred to child support, now a separate county agency, as punishment for backing the candidate who challenged Bradbury's handpicked successor. Bradbury denies those allegations. "They were assigned there for very good reasons that may become public knowledge," he said Thursday. "If this hearing happens, everyone will understand the wisdom of the decision."

On Thursday, attorney Stephen Silver urged the commission to hear his clients' appeal, arguing that the panel must ensure that public employees are not demoted at the "political whim" of an elected official.

But Leroy Smith, litigation supervisor for the county counsel's office, told the commission that the prosecutors were not demoted. He said the board has no authority to hear appeals to transfers.

Under the county's personnel rules, a demotion is defined as "a change of status of an employee from one classification to another classification which has a lower salary range."

Smith argued that 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.

But two commissioners called the county's rules outdated and said a pay cut is only one way an employee can be demoted. Chairman Ramaul Rush joined them in voting to hear the appeal.

Silver praised the commission's decision. "If public employees can be at risk because they back the wrong candidate, what does that tell us?" he said.

The matter comes back to the commission Oct. 24 for further action.

Meanwhile, Bradbury said he directed his attorneys--county counsel and an outside law firm--to file a writ with the Superior Court to block the hearing.

*

Times staff writer Daryl Kelley contributed to this report.

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