Saying Gov. William Donald Schaefer's plan to furlough about 300 state police officers is a threat to public safety, the Maryland Troopers Association filed suit yesterday 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 off up to five days without pay between Feb. 1 and June 30 to make up for a budget deficit.
Col. Elmer H. Tippett, state police superintendent, issued an order requiring 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. It will affect about 325 state police, a union official said.
Sgt. Joe Pruitt, first vice president of the troopers association and one of those affected, said many officers assigned to administrative tasks often are in the field supervising, especially when there's a serious incident.
"We will lose key supervision during those" furlough days, said Sergeant Pruitt, who must take four furlough days between now and June 30.
Lawyers for the troopers union said yesterday 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 yesterday persuaded Judge James T. Smith Jr. to issue an order requiring 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 Monday, 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 yesterday that they believe the furlough plans are legal and will be upheld.
They emphasized that Colonel Tippett's 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 and that the troopers are already understaffed.