Saying Gov. William Donald Schaefer's plan to furlough state police is a threat to public safety, the Maryland Troopers Association today filed suit to prevent the furlough plan from being enforced.
The suit was filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court on behalf of the 1,700 sworn Maryland State Police troopers.
The governor ordered most state employees to take up to five days off without pay between Feb. 1 and June 30 to make up for a budget deficit.
Col. Elmer H. Tippett, superintendent of the State Police, issued an order that requires all non-patrol State Police to take up to five furlough days, depending on their salaries.
The superintendent's order applied to sworn troopers who are engaged in "administrative and clerical" duties.
However, lawyers for the troopers union today said that sworn troopers, even if they are engaged primarily in non-patrol duties, are required to respond to crimes, even when off duty.
Under Colonel Tippett's furlough plan, if a trooper on a furlough day comes across an "emergency," the furlough day will be canceled and rescheduled.
"A furlough day is saying you're not working, when every trooper is always working," said George E. "Chip" Snyder Jr., one of three lawyers representing the troopers.
Mr. Snyder and two other attorneys for the troopers union today persuaded Judge James T. Smith Jr. to issue an order that requires Colonel Tippett to clarify what he considers an "emergency" situation.
Judge Smith also scheduled a full hearing on the matter for Feb. 18.
In another lawsuit over furloughs yesterday, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge issued an injunction to block the city from forcing firefighters and fire officers to take five unpaid furlough days to help the city balance its budget. The judge based the injunction on an earlier agreement between the city and firefighters union.
In the troopers' case, Stuart M. Nathan and Mark H. Bowen, assistant attorneys general, said today that they believed the governor's and Colonel Tippett's orders are legal and will be upheld.
They emphasized that the order applies only to non-patrol officers, "so that public safety will be ensured."
Mr. Snyder, however, said that non-patrol officers support patrol officers and are just as important to public safety. He said that the troopers are already understaffed.
For instance, last fall, a class of 30 new troopers was canceled after the first round of the governor's budget cuts. No new classes have been scheduled.