Thursday, February 26, 2009

Westchester Guardian/The Court Report.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg

Acting State Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey A. Cohen
Grants Injunctive Relief To Westchester County
Correction Officers In Dispute With County


Ruling Brings Into Focus Questionable Practices By
County Department Of Corrections Involving Millions Of Dollars


Westchester State Supreme Court
White Plains, New York
Judge Jeffrey A. Cohen Presiding


Analysis:

A ruling by Acting Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey A. Cohen, a little more than two weeks ago, has brought a quick response from the County Attorney’s Office in the form of an appeal to the Appellate Division, Second Department, of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn. The Westchester County Correction Officers Benevolent Association [COBA], bargaining agent for some 750 County correction officers, had brought an Article 78 proceeding in the form of an Order To Show Cause against “The County of Westchester and the Westchester County Department of Corrections.”

COBA had argued that the Respondents had, over a period of several years, been “withholding, revoking, and/or interfering with benefits due correction officers,” pursuant to General Municipal Law 207c in accordance with Article XX, Paragraph 12(a) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the union and the County. Essentially, the union argued that the practice of the Department of Corrections, over several years, involving reduction of officers’ leave time and benefits, was in blatant violation of State statutes and the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement in force with respect to correction officers on leave due to job-related injury.

As is so often the case lately, when individuals, or agents acting on behalf of County employees, or a class of individuals, bring the County of Westchester and/or any of its many departments into State or Federal Court, the County Attorney’s Office typically attempts to obfuscate the legal issues and elements of fact with a ‘smokescreen’ of procedural arguments. Judge Cohen was neither distracted nor confused, manifesting a clear grasp of the history between the litigants as well as the applicable case law.

Relying upon “the plain language of Paragraph 12(a) of Article XX of the CBA” Cohen concluded that the petitioning union was correct in their contention that the Department of Corrections had “improperly deducted the individual petitioners’ accrued leave for a portion of the time period during which the Medical Consultant’s determination as to their fitness to return to work was still pending.”

While it is clearly very important, going forward, that Judge Cohen has, in fact, enjoined the County from engaging any further in such unlawful practices, the real impact will be felt from the retroactive application of the ruling to possibly hundreds of such wrongfully handled correction officers over the past several years, and the questions that will surely arise regarding those unpaid funds.

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