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Judge rules in favor of Bergen sheriff’s officers

Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A judge in Hackensack today ruled in favor of Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino and his officers in a battle with County Executive Kathleen Donovan over their 2011 – 2014 contract and raises. An attorney for Donovan said the decision will be appealed.

Although the contract was negotiated more than a year ago, signed last December, and approved by the freeholder board in May, Donovan has contested it before the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC), and asked for reconsideration because she wasn’t allowed to participate in the bargaining process.

According to her attorney, Matthew J. Giacobbe, Donovan asked to participate in the negotiations “many times” and was validated in that endeavor when PERC issued an opinion in September that she is “a joint employer with the county sheriff” of the employees in the Sheriff’s Office.

Giacobbe argued to Conte that jurisdiction in the case belongs before PERC.

Conte, disagreed, however, noting that Saudino operates a constitutional office and not a department. As such, he is solely responsible for negotiating contracts, the judge said.

Conte also ruled that the courts have jurisdiction and not PERC.

  • Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan’s refusal to implement 2011 and 2012 pay raises to Sheriff Michael Saudino’s officers has created a hardship for them, a judge said in granting their request for relief. “[T]he negotiated agreement is valid,” Superior Court Judge Joseph Conte wrote in his decision, issued yesterday, and Donovan “violated the Sheriff’s Office its contract right in refusing to implement the contract at hand.” READ MORE….

“The sheriff is the employer for collective bargaining purposes,” John McCann, the attorney for Saudino and Local 134 told CLIFFVIEW PILOT following the ruling.

“He doesn’t rule a department. He runs a constitutional office, the same as the county prosecutor’s office,” McCann said. “The judge reinforced that today.”

Giacobbe told CLIFFVIEW PILOT this afternoon: “We will be filing an appeal with the Appellate Division and seeking a stay of the order.”

“It is our opinion that [Conte] erred in three areas,” he said.

First, Giacobbe said, the judge “completely ignored” the September PERC opinion, even though it is “a state agency with expertise in this area.”

He also said Conte erred in contending that a previous case that became a central point of Donovan’s argument was decided before the statute governing collective bargaining in New Jersey was amended — when, in fact, it came 17 years after the amendment became law.

Finally, Giacobbe said, Conte “didn’t address” his argument that New Jersey statutes don’t give freeholders the authority to vote on contracts presented by anyone other than the county executive.

“We’ll let the Appellate Division decide these questions,” he said.

McCann, meanwhile, said he will seek to have Conte’s order immediately enforced.


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