Judge upholds transfers of deputies Four had said sheriff acted because of their pro-union activities

April 24, 1996|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

An Anne Arundel County circuit judge has upheld Sheriff John H. Brown's transfer of four Carroll deputies who said they were given unwanted assignments because they are union organizers.

In an opinion signed yesterday, Judge Eugene M. Lerner denied a request for an injunction to stop the sheriff from reassigning Sgt. Kevin O'Leary, Cpl. Neal Wuethrich and Deputy Edward Smith to correctional duties at the county Detention Center and Sgt. Thomas Bader to road patrol.

The case was assigned to Judge Lerner after three Circuit Court judges in Carroll declined to hear it because they work closely with the sheriff and deputies who provide courthouse security.

In an agreement reached April 11, the deputies remained in their previous assignments until Judge Lerner's decision.

In his 15-page opinion, Judge Lerner said Sheriff Brown did not violate the deputies' "First Amendment right to freedom of association" when he ordered their transfers last month.

The judge called the sheriff's action a good-faith response to the county's budget crisis, not an attempt to retaliate for the deputies' union activities. The judge noted that the sheriff had been asked by the county budget office to trim $256,000 from his proposed 1997 budget before the union was organized in November.

According to testimony at the April 11 hearing in Annapolis, the county's budget office had asked the sheriff to cut eight positions, and the sheriff had said the transfers would avoid layoffs and save the county money. The judge also said the deputies had no reasonable expectation of continuing in their original assignments.

Soon after receiving Judge Lerner's decision yesterday, Sheriff Brown said the deputies would begin their new assignments today.

"I bear no animosity toward these men whatsoever," the sheriff said. "They had every right to do what they did, but I knew I was right."

Three of the four deputies contacted yesterday said they are looking for jobs elsewhere.

Sergeant Bader, a veteran of almost 17 years, said he will retire by June 1.

"It's time for me to leave," he said.

Deputy Smith, president of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office Employees Association, the fledgling union representing about 22 of the department's 100 police and correctional officers, said he will look for another job.

"I never wanted to be and I never will be a correctional officer," he said

Corporal Wuethrich said he will talk to his family before deciding whether to stay.

Pub Date: 4/24/96

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