Maricopa County Judge Katherine Cooper granted a preliminary injunction on Tuesday halting contract provisions that allows Phoenix police union officials to conduct union work while they're on the clock.
"The city received the judge's order this morning and currently is reviewing it," spokeswoman Toni Maccarone tells New Times.
The Goldwater Institute, a local conservative think-tank, filed a lawsuit in December 2011 over release time for union leaders. As part of their agreement with the city, union officials are "released" from police duties to conduct union business but remain on the city's payroll.
But the Institute's legal victory will be a short one since it only applies to the current contract, which is going to expire on June 30.
Taylor Earl, a staff attorney for Goldwater Institute working on the lawsuit, tells New Times they plan to file an amended complaint to wrap the newly negotiated contract into the lawsuit.
The existing agreement between city officials and the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association allows for six union leaders to be paid -- and be eligible for retirement benefits and overtime -- while conducting union work.
The police union received a bank of 1,583 hours for "legitimate association purposes," 500 release-time hours for a lobbyist, 15 days of release time to attend PLEA seminars and conventions, and 160 overtime hours for the six full-time positions. The overall tab is about $1 million.
The new contract between the city and the PLEA takes effect on July 1, and works out some of the murky issues in the old contract, such as specifying what the release time can be used for and eliminating automatic overtime.
Earl says Goldwater's analysis of the new contract is ongoing but noted that it was "more of the same" that contains some "token language."
Goldwater argued that the agreement in place violates the gift clause of the state constitution -- which prohibits gifts of public money to private individuals or corporations and requires that the government receive a tangible benefit from money it hands over to a private entity.
The preliminary injunction was granted, the judge ruled, because Goldwater "has demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their claims because 1) PLEA uses the City's authorization of $1 million for release time for private, not public, purposes, and 2) there is no legal consideration given by PLEA in exchange for the benefits it receives."
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The judge also wrote:
Based on the evidence presented, the Court finds at least some applications of release time are not for a public purpose, including negotiating contracts for PLEA members, lobbying legislation that benefits police officers, attending PLEA functions, and any activity where the union is the primary, direct beneficiary. Such activities promote the private interests of PLEA and, as a result, do not constitute public purposes.
Earl said the preliminary decision "bodes well" for the rest of the lawsuit.
PLEA officials were not immediately available for comment.