Judge outlines 'Catch-22' in case of layoff lawsuits

July 14, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

A Baltimore County judge all but threw out two suits yesterday by laid-off county workers seeking restoration of their jobs.

Circuit Judge John F. Fader II reserved a final ruling until July 26 and said the case likely won't be decided until it reaches the Court of Appeals, Maryland's highest court.

In a daylong hearing, Judge Fader laid out a frustrating "Catch-22" dilemma for former county workers. He said he is unsure he has jurisdiction to consider the cases of workers who did not exhaust administrative appeals before filing suit. However, he said, he could not consider the cases of 13 laid-off supervisors who did file administrative appeals because county law says decisions of the Personnel and Salary Advisory Board cannot be appealed.

The irony is that the board agreed with the workers and said in May 1993 that Mr. Hayden violated county law in laying off people without notice. But the board decided it had no power to order restoration of jobs that no longer exist. That's why the workers filed lawsuits.

The judge said he sees no way to give the workers what they want, even if Executive Roger B. Hayden didn't follow the charter in cutting 392 occupied jobs in February 1993.

"Citizens can't get a court order to force executives to follow the law," he said.

Later he said, "I do not believe that Circuit Court judges have the right to make new law." Only "the boys and gals at 361 Rowe Blvd.," the Court of Appeals building, have that ability, he said.

Judge Fader gave the four lawyers representing the workers until July 26 to find any Maryland court cases to support their arguments and convince him he is wrong.

"This is a way station to the Court of Appeals," attorney J. Carroll Holzer said after the hearing. Mr. Holzer said Judge Fader "is saying there is a wrong without a remedy."

Mr. Holzer and other attorneys represent 44 former supervisory workers whose jobs were eliminated. Another nearly identical suit was filed by the union representing white collar employees, more than 100 of whom lost their jobs.

Judge Fader emphasized that elected officials have broad discretion in applying their powers, and that, under Maryland case law, judges may not order them to go back and follow specific regulations even if they have ignored them.

Supported by the personnel board opinion, the workers contend that Mr. Hayden violated the charter by not giving notice, by eliminating and rearranging administrative offices and by not considering such factors as seniority and proficiency.

The county contends that the two to nine weeks of severance pay workers got amounted to notice, and that the executive has a right to reorganize county government and eliminate jobs under the kind of severe budget crisis that occurred. The county lost more than $90 million from state budget cuts and revenue reductions from 1991 to 1993.

Workers say Mr. Hayden created the "budget crisis" to target workers he or department heads did not like.

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