L.A. County settles part of suit alleging anti-union conduct

October 6, 2011
Steve Cooley’s Anti-Union Conduct
By Jack Leonard, Los Angeles Times
October 5, 2011
 
Los Angeles County will pay $575,000 to settle part of a federal law suit claiming that Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley and his managers waged an anti-union campaign, according to a settlement agreement filed in court. The settlement, which must be approved by the Board of Supervisors, would pay $125,000 to the prosecutors’ union and $450,000 to Deputy Dist. Atty. Marc Debbaudt, who a county employment commission found was transferred in retaliation for his union activity. In addition, a preliminary federal injunction ordering Cooley and other county officials not to discipline or discriminate against prosecutors for belonging to the union would remain in effect for the rest of Cooley’s tenure as D.A. Cooley has announced he will retire next year at the end of his third term.Matthew Monforton, an attorney representing the Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys, hailed the settlement as a victory for the union and described Cooley’s conduct as “outrageous and illegal.”Earlier this year, the county’s Employee Relations Commission upheld the findings of a hearing officer who concluded that veteran prosecutors were transferred to less desirable assignments as a result of their union work. Debbaudt, who joined the office in 1986, was sent from handling adult felony cases in Pasadena to working on juvenile matters in Pomona and then Sylmar, assignments usually given to less experienced attorneys. The hearing officer found that Cooley gave explanations that “were false and clearly pretexts” for conducting a “deliberate and thinly disguised campaign” aimed at destroying the union.Debbaudt and Cooley declined to comment on the settlement.Attorney Brian Hershman, a partner at the law firm Jones Day who represents the county, disputed the commission’s findings and said no prosecutors were retaliated against.He said the county settled the case to end what had become a distraction to the mission of the district attorney’s office. “We wanted to put that dispute behind us,” he said.Claims by two other prosecutors who are part of the lawsuit are scheduled for trial next month, Hershman said.

jack.leonard@latimes.com