NY Court Officers Sue to Stop New Legislation

January 20, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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NEW YORK — The New York State Court Officers Association filed suit last week in Manhattan federal court, seeking to enjoin the state from enforcing what the Association claims is an unconstitutional law that allows its collective-bargaining agreement to be “unilaterally” altered.

The lawsuit filed on Thursday in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York seeks “to protect the constitutional rights of the Association and its current and retired members,” it says.

The lawsuit claims that new legislation — Chapter 491 of the N.Y. Laws of 2011 — improperly permits the state to unilaterally change the Association’s collective-bargaining agreement and to implement one-sided cuts to health-insurance and prescription drug benefits that Association members and their families have been receiving for nearly 28 years.

“The state has used this new law to reduce its share of the payments towards health-insurance premiums in direct violation of the rights of the Association and its members,’ states the Association in a press release last week. “The lawsuit filed [Thursday], which the Association brought under the Contracts Clause and Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution, seeks to stop the state from employing this law to make changes that should be the subject of collective bargaining with the union.”
Manhattan attorney  James E. Tyrrell, Jr.

Dennis Quirk, president of the Association, claims that allowing this law to be in effect could have a chilling effect on future court-officer recruitment.

“The consequences of the state’s reduction of its share of these premiums should not be underestimated — the recruitment of new court officers could be adversely affected while existing court officers may need to consider other employment options,” Quirk said. “We are therefore deeply concerned about the chilling effect that these cuts likely will have upon the access to and use of the courts by all New Yorkers. We are simply seeking for the state to honor its commitments and make any changes through the collective bargaining process.”

Brooklyn attorney Bruce Baron, of Baron Associates P.C., is special counsel to President Quirk.

James E. Tyrrell, Jr., a partner New York Court Officers Assoc. President Dennis Quirkat Patton Boggs LLP is the lead attorney for the Association in this case.

“The Contracts Clause exists in the U.S. Constitution to protect against just this type of self-interested state action,” Tyrell said. “If states had free reign to enact legislation impairing and redefining the terms of their own contracts, public employees’ rights to collective bargaining would be rendered meaningless.”

The New York State Court Officers Association is an employee organization under the Public Employees’ Fair Employment Act. For the past several decades, it has served as the sole, exclusive and recognized bargaining representative for collective negotiations on behalf of non-judicial employees of the State of New York Unified Court System, within the City of New York.

—Ryan Thompson

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

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