Judge rules no layoffs for Costa Mesa — for now

Court says city must follow proper procedures before letting workers go, but those procedures have not been specifically outlined.

July 05, 2011|By Joseph Serna,

SANTA ANA — Costa Mesa cannot lay off city employees by outsourcing their jobs to private companies until the city goes through proper legal steps, an Orange County Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday.

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that layoffs could not be reinstated until a civil trial when they can be reinstated if an agreement is reached in earlier court proceedings.

In a preliminary injunction barring the city from implementing its outsourcing plans, Judge Tam Nomoto Schumann demanded that Costa Mesa follow necessary steps if it plans to replace 213 employees with mostly private workers. The city issued the layoff notices in March.

City officials, meanwhile, said they believed the city was in compliance with the law and should be able to execute their austerity measures.


"We are following the proper procedures," City Attorney Tom Duarte said in a press release. "This ruling doesn't affect the city's ability to research outsourcing possibilities and, if it's prudent, to outsource city jobs down the road."

A majority of the workers affected are part of the Costa Mesa City Employees Assn., which is represented by the larger Orange County Employees Assn., that petitioned the court in May.

The jobs on the chopping block — from dogcatcher to bookkeeper to jail services — are not "special services" that Costa Mesa has legal authority to contract out to private companies, OCEA attorneys argued.

The group also argued that the city did not meet with employee groups before issuing the notices, as required in city contracts. Schumann made a note of that as well.

On Tuesday, Harold Potter of Jones & Mayer, the law firm representing Costa Mesa, seemed at a loss in court with Schumann's ruling and offered little reaction outside the courtroom.

He waved his arms in wide circles from behind the defendant's bench, telling Schumann that she was barring Costa Mesa from finding solutions to balance perceived budget problems.

"The restraining order restrains the city from thinking of outsourcing jobs," Potter said. "There is no harm or immediate harm that couldn't be undone. It's a let's-wait-and-see type of proposal."

"I don't think the plaintiff is here because the city is exploring other fiscally sound policies in a tough economy," Schumann dryly replied.

"You're enjoining the city from doing what?" Potter asked.

"Laying off the employees without following proper procedures," she answered.

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