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County Seeks Order to End Sickout

October 01, 2003|Daren Briscoe | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to seek a temporary restraining order to end an escalating sickout by sheriff's deputies unhappy with ongoing contract negotiations.

On the same day, 224 deputies failed to report to work, which caused three courthouses downtown and one in Montebello to be closed from 8:30 to 10 a.m.

County attorneys are scheduled to appear in court today to argue for a restraining order.

Now in its second week, the "blue flu" sickout has snarled the operations of at least 12 of the county's 58 courts, causing long lines and other delays at some courthouses and forcing the Sheriff's Department to call in reserves from as far away as Castaic to staff downtown courts.

"As far as we know, this is the most widespread job action the courts have ever seen from the deputies," said Allan Parachini, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The sickout began at the Twin Towers and Men's Central jails, but sheriff's officials said that, by focusing on the largest and busiest downtown courts, deputies appeared to be targeting a more complex system, one responsible for transporting up to 2,100 prisoners daily.

"You can look at where calls are coming in and [the deputies] appear to be ill at strategic locations," said Taylor Morehead, chief of the Sheriff's Department's court services division.

Parachini said the courts' priority is "critical criminal cases where the clock is ticking." Courts could be forced to release defendants whose preliminary hearings, arraignments or trials are not held by a certain date.

According to Assistant County Counsel Dave Kelsey, the county has successfully obtained similar injunctions at least twice, once against deputies in 1997 and once against nurses and other union employees in 2000.

"It's an illegal act," Kelsey said. "Generally, public employees have a right to strike, but peace officers don't have the right to a sickout."

The deputies' pay contract expired in January, and a retirement and benefits package expired Tuesday.

Roy Burns, president of the 8,500-member Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, said negotiations are in "a poor state." He added that the union had not called for or endorsed the sickout, and that all deputies had doctors' notes for their illnesses.

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