June 24, 2014

Oral argument in the Phoenix union release case

By Deborah J. La Fetra Senior Attorney

On June 17, the Arizona Court of Appeals heard argument in Cheatham v. Diciccio to decide whether Phoenix’s contract with the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA), whereby the city pays full salary and overtime for six full-time and 35 part-time employees who report to the union, and do the union’s work, violates the Arizona Constitution’s Gift Clause.  The contract devotes nearly $900,000 of taxpayer money to subsidize 31,000 hours of “paid release time” over two years.  A trial court judge permanently enjoined the contract as an improper gift of public funds.

Paul Orfanedes argued for the union and Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute advocated for the taxpayers.  The three-judge panel asked probing questions of the attorneys for both sides, allowing both to exceed their allotted time to answer.  The union argued that the release time is rolled up into the police officers’ general compensation package—like vacation time—and therefore does not implicate the Gift Clause at all.  In contrast, the taxpayers argued that the release time is an easily quantified amount of money that is grossly disproportionate to any benefit obtained by the city, and that the city lacks any control over the release time officers’ activities because those officers report to and are supervised by the union.  On the later point, Clint Bolick drew the court’s attention to PLF’s amicus brief (at 41:48), which explained that other states addressing the control question have found the lack of government control over the expenditure of funds proves that those funds are a gift to another entity.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClbtvTvjxCQ&feature=youtu.be

The judges did not tip their hands as to how they will rule and took the case under submission.

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