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Deputy Sheriffs’ Association Files Legal Challenge with State Board

County, law enforcement oversight advocates say challenge is baseless

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A labor group representing Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputies has filed a legal action with a state board in charge of regulating disagreements between public agencies and their employees over the County’s decision to add a measure to the November ballot intended to increase oversight of the Sheriff’s Office.


A law firm representing the Sonoma County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association (SCDSA) filed the initial document, known as an Unfair Practice Charge, with the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) on Monday afternoon. An attorney with the state’s Office of General Council will review the SCDSA’s charge and, if it is found to have legal merit, the County and SCDSA will enter into further legal proceedings, potentially concluding with a final decision by PERB.


The SCDSA threatened to file the complaint last week after the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Aug. 6 to add the Evelyn Cheatham Effective IOLERO Ordinance to the Nov. 3 ballot. The ordinance, identified on the ballot as Measure P, would increase the funding and oversight powers of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Outreach and Review (IOLERO), a County office tasked with reviewing the Sheriff’s internal investigations and interacting with community members.


The SCDSA is requesting that PERB require the County to rescind the Ordinance on the grounds that the County failed to meet with the law enforcement union in accordance with a state labor law.


In the document filed Monday, the SCDSA, represented by Rains Lucia Stern St. Phalle & Silver, PC, asks PERB to order the County to make the situation right by “rescinding the Ordinance, and refrain from enacting any similar future ordinance unless and until it [the County] complies with its obligations under the MMBA [Meyers-Milias-Brown Act, a state labor law].”


“[If] the County had complied with labor laws, the issues could have been addressed and allowed the ordinance to lawfully proceed for the voters’ consideration,” SCDSA president Mike Vail said in a press release distributed Monday. “Unfortunately, the County’s disregard of basic legal requirements have left the DSA no choice but to pursue formal legal action to enforce its collective bargaining rights with the Public Employment Relations Board.”


Representatives of the County and the Measure P campaign both reject the SCDSA’s legal argument.


“In passing the Ordinance, the Board of Supervisors acted well within its policy making authority and the County is very confident the Board’s action will withstand legal review,” Bruce Goldstein, Sonoma County Counsel, told the Bohemian in an email.


Jerry Threet, a Measure P campaign advisor and former director of IOLERO, called the SCDSA’s charge “a classic political feint, dressed up as a legal challenge.”


“It is designed to bully the County into backing down from putting stronger civilian oversight of the Sheriff on the ballot, despite its broad public support. In reality, the complaint has little to no legal merit,” Threet stated.


A letter attached to the SCDSA’s charge shows that the County offered to meet with representatives of the SCDSA on Aug. 13 or 14. So far, the two parties have not met.


Goldstein said the County is “confident that [the DSA's] concerns can be addressed in a mutually satisfactory manner once we have a chance to discuss the issues.”


In an interview, Timothy Talbot, an attorney representing the SCDSA, said that the SCDSA declined to meet with the County after the Board added Measure P to the ballot because the “law says it is essentially futile to talk about something that’s already done.”


Instead, the SCDSA is asking PERB to take action to right the County’s alleged wrong.


Ultimately, the decision of a fitting solution is up to PERB, if the SCDSA’s charge makes it that far.


“California law gives the Board wide latitude to fashion a remedy that is appropriate and cures the violation,” Felix De La Torre, PERB’s general counsel, told the Bohemian in an email. “Of course, the Board considers the remedies requested by the charging party, but ultimately orders a remedy that best effectuates the purpose of the law.”


The SCDSA's full charge is available here.

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