Wednesday, July 7, 2010 | Just weeks after District Attorney Tony Rackauckas pleaded with county supervisors to dip into reserves to help balance his budget, his staff attorneys are demanding an overdue pay raise.

And County CEO Tom Mauk isn’t happy about it.

Both sides are gearing up for a confrontation, with Mauk threatening furloughs and the attorneys talking about court action.

The county’s fleet of nearly 500 attorneys — covering agencies like the district attorney, the county counsel and the public defender — voted last Thursday to insist on receiving a scheduled 3.5 percent pay raise, which was deferred last year.

Yet there’s apparently no money in the fiscal year 2010-11 budget adopted last month to cover those raises, estimated at several hundred thousand dollars.

The situation has put Rackauckas in a difficult spot.

He has not taken a side and would not comment on the issue, saying only through his chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder, that “we’re continuing to negotiate and work with the county and the staff to figure out a solution that meets everyone’s needs.”

Mauk was much less diplomatic about the attorneys’ vote, saying, “We will notify them, if we haven’t already, that we want to meet and confer on furloughs.”

He decried the vote for raises, saying it flew in the face of every recent headline regarding the economy or budget cuts at public agencies. Asking for a pay raise amidst sagging sales and property tax revenues, looming state cuts and a weak economy is inappropriate, Mauk said.

“They are contractually entitled to the raise; we asked them not to take it; they took it anyway,” Mauk said.

Larry Yellin, a deputy district attorney who is president of the Orange County Attorneys’ Association, said Mauk’s statements show that he and other county leaders are not interested in bargaining in good faith.

“I get a feeling from the CEO’s office, not the DA, that he wants to go to war,” Yellin said. “This is politics, not economics. This could have been worked out.”

Yellin said there were past assurances that the raise deferral wouldn’t be permanent. And the deputy DAs have gone through a round of layoffs and furloughs.

Yet during negotiations, Yellin said, the deferred raise never even made it into the county’s budget proposal.

“They’ve asked us to defer a raise for a whole year and then they have the audacity not to budget it,” Yellin said. “The offices were ordered not to budget it by the CEO. Now they pass their budgets with augmentations, and they ask to defer for another year?”

Regarding Mauk’s threat on furloughs, Yellin said the staff has already been through a round of those and still got no raises. And “if they try to effectuate a furlough, we’ll let the courts sort it out.”

“The funny thing about DAs,” Yellin said, “we tend to trust the court system.”

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