Pima County Superior Court Judge Leslie Miller ruled Dec. 4 that Rich Anemone and the Committee of Concerned Citizens for Oro Valley Public Safety are entitled to attorney's fees from the Town of Oro Valley.
The citizen's group filed a special action Sept. 25 against the town after Oro Valley rescinded a serial number needed to collect signatures on a petition that would put an Oro Valley Police Association ordinance to a public vote. The proposed ordinance spelled out a process for police to elect a group to represent them in negotiations with the town on wages, benefits and other employment issues.
Town Attorney Mark Langlitz has maintained that the OVPOA ordinance violates state law because it provides for the majority elected group to be the exclusive representative for police officers.
The action resulted in an Oct. 15 hearing in Superior Court in which the town conceded that the serial number was still valid but said it would not honor any petitions because they would be untimely for the next election.
In a memo to the judge requesting fees, OVPOA lawyer Martin Bihn stated that he had attempted on more than one occasion to resolve the issue without litigation, but was unsuccessful due to the town's "reliance on an unsupportable position which (it ) abandoned at the last minute."
Bihn said the fees amount to about $3,500. "We're pretty happy," he said. "The town had no basis to defend this thing. They just did it to stick it in the eye of the police."
Although the amount is relatively small, "It was a lot of money for us," OVPOA President Dan Krueger said. "We didn't have a lot to spend."
Besides having to pay attorneys fees, the town hired outside attorney Gary Urman of Deconcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy for legal representation at the Oct. 15 hearing.
Urman's memo to the judge stated that the town should not be required to pay attorneys fees because the petition issue was moot and that this was only the first of what may be many "skirmishes" between the two sides.
"The ultimate issue in this dispute is whether plaintiffs can us the initiative process to force the Town to recognize an exclusive bargaining representative for police employees at the expense of other individuals or organizations who would like to be heard by the town," he wrote. Urman requested that the matter of fees be considered at the "final outcome" of the dispute.
"We were trying to save them the effort of going out and collecting signatures and then saying we're not going to accept (the petitions) because they're not timely," Langlitz said.
"But we respect the judge's decision and we will pay whatever the judge deems is appropriate," he said. "If we feel it's excessive we'll respond to that and the judge will decide."