An appeals court ruled this week that Orange County officials do not owe monetary damages for shifting certain jail duties from sheriff’s deputies to civilian correctional workers, county officials announced late Tuesday afternoon.

County officials say the shift of duties was not only lawful but fiscally prudent, while the deputies’ union said the county violated meet-and-confer requirements and that the union’s board weighing their legal options regarding the appeal.

From the county’s news release:

The [Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs], which represents about 2,000 deputy sheriffs, sued the County in 2010, claiming some jail duties had been improperly transferred from deputies to newly created civilian Correctional Services Assistants (CSAs). The move was estimated to save about $8 million a year in salary and overtime costs, which the union sought to recover as damages.

The ruling by the Fourth District Court of Appeal, capping five years of legal wrangling, was released this week.

Supervisor Shawn Nelson, the only current supervisor on the Board when the lawsuit was filed, said the switch to CSAs was an innovative response to rising jail costs and “done for all the right reasons.”

“We have a fiduciary duty for the benefit of everyone to get the most out of our public resources that we can,” he said.

Correctional services assistants are non-sworn, highly-trained personnel who assist sworn officers in monitoring inmate movement, maintaining order and controlling entries and exits to jail facilities. CSAs are typically assigned to locations such as guard stations, which allow deputy sheriffs to maintain order by patrolling elsewhere throughout the jails.

In September 2012, the deputies union and the County reached agreement on the ongoing use of CSAs, which are represented by the Orange County Employees Association. The agreement includes a cap on the maximum number of CSAs that can be used in combination with deputy sheriffs. Non-sworn employees do not have to be state-certified, do not carry firearms and have no powers to arrest.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, the deputies’ union’s president, Tom Dominguez, said:

We are disappointed with the ruling from the Fourth District Court of Appeal regarding civilian correctional services assistants (CSAs).

This litigation and the associated waste of taxpayer dollars could have been completely averted had Supervisor Shawn Nelson and his then-colleagues on the Board of Supervisors simply chosen to follow the law from the inception of the CSA program.

The County and the Sheriff’s Department could have legally had CSAs in the county’s jails and the millions of dollars in associated cost savings since 2008. In fact, AOCDS suggested fast-tracking their implementation to save the County money.

But the County once again allowed politics to interfere with good fiscal sense, choosing instead to assign CSAs to do work previously done by deputies without meeting and conferring with AOCDS as required by law.

We found ourselves enmeshed in yet another protracted court battle with the County of Orange simply because Supervisor Shawn

Nelson and his then-colleagues on the Board of Supervisors refused to follow the law.

The CSAs clearly provide a valuable role and provide substantial cost savings, but it is a stretch for the County to characterize CSAs as highly trained positions. CSAs are non-sworn positions who are assigned to administrative tasks in the county jails after just nine weeks of classroom training.

Orange County deputy sheriffs are responsible for maintaining order inside the County’s five jails which have evolved into state prison environments in the wake of prison realignment. The concept of CSAs was broached long before dangerous state prisoners were routinely incarcerated in county jails.

A deputy sheriff is tasked with enormous legal requirements and responsibilities which differ dramatically from those of civilian employees. Those immense responsibilities are bestowed upon Orange County Deputy Sheriffs only after they successfully complete six

months of rigorous training though the Sheriff’s California POST-certified academy, one of just a few remaining stress law enforcement academies in the nation.

The Sheriff’s Department agreed in October 2008 as part of another lawsuit settlement to negotiate CSAs as part of a new or extended contract.

Despite the October 2008 agreement, the county repeatedly refused to negotiate CSAs, arguing they would have no impacts on deputies.

This is patently untrue.

Despite a court injunction and in clear violation of the law, the County continued to supplant deputy positions with non-sworn CSAs. It was not until the court ordered the County to meet-and-confer as required by law that the county agreed to do so.

The County erred in their press release and incorrectly stated that the County reached an agreement on CSAs in September 2012. The agreement, which caps the number of CSAs at a maximum of 276, was reached in September 2014.

The AOCDS Board of Directors is reviewing its legal options regarding the appellate court decision.

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