Tuesday, September 13, 2016

BREAKING, READ: Arizona Supreme Court Upholds "Release Time" For Phoenix Police Union Reps

In a 3-2 decision, the Arizona Supreme Court today upheld the right of cities to give police union personnel "release time" for negotiation preparations, seminars, and other union responsibilities.

Chief Justice Scott Bales authored the majority opinion in a five-year old case that arose when taxpayers represented by Goldwater Institute attorneys sued Phoenix, alleging that "release time" violated the Gift Clause of the Arizona Constitution.  Clint Bolick, the newest Justice, recused himself in the matter, as he previously was involved in the case while at the Institute.*

The Court found that there is a public purpose for the City to allow release time - including full-time release for six officers who conduct Phoenix Law Enforcement Association ("PLEA") business - because it allows the city to procure law enforcement services. 
"The dissent, like the trial court, concludes that release time does not serve a public purpose but instead benefits PLEA as a “private entity.” But this position views the release time benefits in isolation rather than as part of the MOU as a whole, which provides police services to the public. This also views too narrowly both the role of public employee unions and the public’s interest. PLEA, as the authorized representative chosen by a majority of Unit 4 officers, serves not only its own interests, but also those of its members. While the City may sometimes be in an adversarial role relative to the union (sitting across the table, so to speak, in labor negotiations or employment-related disputes), the City – as its own ordinance recognizes – may also benefit as an employer by having an identified representative of the Unit 4 officers for employment-related issues. (citations omitted)

Justic Ann Timmer's dissent flatly disagreed: "No public purpose is served by diverting officers from safeguarding the public to work almost unchecked for PLEA. The City has no control over how PLEA directs the officers on release time and is not even told what the officers do for PLEA." (citation omitted)

*Bolick was replaced by Judge Joseph Howard (Court of Appeals, Div. 2), who was in the majority.

Phoenix attorney Paul Weich contributed this article.

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