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Court upholds Costa Mesa injunction

Three-judge panel does not allow city to go forward with much of its layoff plan until an employee lawsuit concludes.

August 17, 2012|By Joseph Serna

An injunction prohibiting the city of Costa Mesa from outsourcing services to the private sector will remain in place until an employee lawsuit is resolved, a three-judge panel ruled Friday.

William Bedsworth, Eileen Moore and Richard Aronson from the state Court of Appeal unanimously upheld Orange County Superior Court Judge Tam Nomoto Schumann's 2011 order, which put a halt to Costa Mesa's plans to outsource some services to private companies.

"This is a huge boost for employee morale for a group of employees who have been working really hard under some pretty terrible circumstances," said Jennifer Muir, spokeswoman for the Orange County Employees Assn., which represents more than 100 Costa Mesa employees. "Maybe this will wake be a wake-up call to the City Council majority to stop spending millions of taxpayer dollars to pursue an ideological, political agenda."

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Councilman Steve Mensinger said the ruling highlights what is at stake with Measure V — the proposed city charter — on November's ballot. He also argued that the judges couldn't be impartial because they are public employees too.

"This makes the charter that much more important in reforming the unsustainable employee benefits that we have in our city," he said. "Clearly, when you're asking judges to make decisions on pension reform and they're receiving the same benefit, it doesn't surprise me that they're unwilling to look at the unsustainability."

The charter would not undo current employee contracts, but would give the city more flexibility in outsourcing.

The panel agreed with Schumann's ruling that layoffs would cause irreparable harm to workers. The panel went a step further and said that the employees could win their lawsuit, noting that if Costa Mesa were a charter city — not a general law city, like it is now — sections of the employees' lawsuit would become moot.

Schumann's injunction was in response to a Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. lawsuit filed in May 2011 after the city sent out more than 200 notices to workers that their jobs would be outsourced by September of that year.

While the city maintained that the layoff notices didn't necessarily mean an employee would lose his or her job, the judges disagreed.

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