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Judge considers dismissing police union suit

Tuesday, March 27, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Attorneys for the city sparred with attorneys for the Austin Police Association, its president Ken Casaday and police Sgt. Robert Miljenovich during a court hearing Monday over whether the police union’s suit against various city officials should be dismissed without a hearing on the merits.

Judge Amy Clark Meachum took the matter under advisement.

The suit, originally filed on Casaday’s behalf alone, by the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, contends that City Manager Spencer Cronk is violating state law by directing that employees of the Office of the Police Monitor have access to APD’s internal disciplinary review process. That access includes authority to review material in what is called the G file, which is generally confidential.

Staff from the Office of the Police Monitor and members of the city’s Citizen Review Panel had access to those files under the meet and confer agreement, which expired at the end of December.

Although members of the police union ratified the agreement worked out between their negotiators and negotiators for the city, City Council rejected the contract in December after hearing complaints from citizens who said that it did not offer sufficient civilian oversight.

Also named as defendants in the suit are Interim Police Chief Brian Manley and Joya Hayes, director of the city’s Firefighters’, Police Officers’ and Emergency Medical Services Personnel Civil Service Commission.

The city asserts that Cronk is within his legal rights to delegate the authority he has under state law to review disciplinary files. The Austin Justice Coalition filed an amicus brief in support of the city’s position.

Elaine Hart, who was interim city manager in December, made the decision to allow the police monitor’s employees to continue to review disciplinary files and participate in oversight under the APD Internal Affairs Division. The police association contends that once the contract expired, the Office of the Police Monitor should also have ceased to exist.

The lawsuit has been amended since it was filed in February to include the union and Miljenovich. According to the most recent court filing, Miljenovich “has been notified that he is a subject of an Internal Affairs disciplinary investigation. Moreover, he has been notified that he will be interviewed by Internal Affairs in late March or early April, and that an OPM employee will participate in the disciplinary review process.” His participation as a plaintiff makes it more difficult for the city to argue that the claim is hypothetical.

The city asked Judge Meachum to dismiss the lawsuit, stating that the suit does not outline an injury to the plaintiffs because the city has done nothing that is illegal. No member of the public is allowed access to information in the disciplinary files. Because members of the police monitor’s staff are standing in for the city manager – who is authorized to see the files and participate in review of allegations – the complaint is not valid, the city says.

Assistant City Attorney Chris Edwards argued on behalf of the city and attorney Craig Deats argued on behalf of Casaday, APA and Miljenovich. Attorney Brian McGiverin represented the Austin Justice Coalition.

Photo by John Flynn.

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