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Costa Mesa employee lawsuit moves forward [Corrected]

Judge refuses to dismiss portions of the suit against the city. Trial is scheduled to start April 9.

March 13, 2012|By Joseph Serna

A judge will decide a lawsuit filed by Costa Mesa city employees seeking to block the City Council's plan to lay off municipal workers and replace them with contractors.

A Orange County Superior Court judge on Tuesday rejected the city's final legal challenge to the merits of the lawsuit. The decision paves the way for a jury trial next month in Santa Ana.

"We are grateful for the court's ruling and look forward to trial so we can continue to fight for the economic security of our members and their families in the face of this politically motivated outsourcing scheme," Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. (CMCEA) President Helen Nenadal said in a statement.

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FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier version incorrectly said moving to a charter system of governance would undercut the Costa Mesa Employee Assn.'s lawsuit. The city would still honor its Memorandum of Understanding with the employees until it expires. The original version of this story also said the case would be decided by a jury; it will not. A judge will decide the case.

Judge Tam Nomoto Schumann rejected the city's motion for a summary judgment, where the defendant challenges the plaintiff's claims individually.

"This is consistent with the judge's previous rulings on the case," Costa Mesa City Attorney Tom Duarte said. "The city looks forward to its day in court."

In her lawsuit representing hundreds of city employees, Nenadal claims the city cannot outsource basic city services only for cost savings.

She also argues the city's contract with CMCEA doesn't permit outsourcing without union permission.

Costa Mesa sought to have each argument thrown out, but with Shumann's ruling, the decision will ultimately be left in the hands of a jury.

The case could have long-term and costly implications for Costa Mesa. The city has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars defending itself from the suit, and the toll will only continue to mount through a daily trial and the likely appeals.

Meanwhile, the City Council's outsourcing plans remain in a holding pattern on many fronts. While Costa Mesa is allowed to send out and receive bids from public and private groups to do city services, the city can only move go ahead with public partnerships until the lawsuit is resolved.

The council majority is hoping to put a proposed city charter — essentially a city constitution — on the June ballot to increase local control.

According to a news release sent Tuesday, the city plans to ask a judge Wednesday to allow the measure to go on the ballot after a clerical error caused the city to miss a filing deadline.

Because the resolutions the council passed March 6 arrived after Friday's deadline, Orange County Registrar Neal Kelley said he couldn't place the issue on the ballot, the release said. He also said he didn't have the discretion to extend the deadline.

Originally, the deadline for the resolutions, charter ballot arguments and city attorney's impartial analysis was Friday, but the registrar extended the ballot arguments and impartial analysis deadlines to Monday. City Clerk Julie Folcik believed the deadline also had been extended for the resolutions as well, according to the release.

Councilwoman Wendy Leece is opposed to the layoffs as well as the charter.

The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial April 9 at the Central Justice Center in Sana Ana.

joseph.serna@latimes.com

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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