Union leaders Friday hailed a tentative contract that limits Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen's executive powers, including his ability to dole out paid leave to his top deputies and punish errant prosecutors publicly.
The contract between the county and the Government Attorneys Association could set a path to calmer relations between Rosen and about 175 prosecutors by settling deeply divisive issues.
But it is a mixed bag for the public.
It benefits taxpayers by establishing clear limits on potentially costly paid leave. But it also reduces public oversight of errant prosecutors.
For the first time, prosecutors who have been disciplined by Rosen will be able to appeal their punishment through private, binding arbitration rather than a public hearing, according to the union and county officials.
As result, more prosecutors are expected to file appeals, potentially curbing the district attorney's ability to come down hard on lazy or overzealous prosecutors. Union members say more appeals are necessary because Rosen has not been fair and evenhanded.
Rosen said he understood the hearings would still be public, but said even if they are not, that will not deter him from disciplining the few prosecutors on his staff who step out of line. He pointed out that arbitrators are traditionally more sympathetic to management.
The disciplinary policy applies only to prosecutors.
But under the two-year contract, which runs retroactively from September 2013 through September 2015, all union members, including prosecutors, public defenders and child-support attorneys, will get an immediate 2 percent raise, followed by a 3 percent raise in the fall.
"I would hope this contract will show that the union board has always been working for the interests of members as a whole," union President Max Zarzana said.
In a written statement, Rosen contended that the agreement does not represent much of a change, adding that it is not unusual for government employees to be able to rely on binding arbitration to resolve disciplinary matters.
"I am pleased that this Office's hardworking prosecutors received a much-deserved pay increase. It is their effective, everyday efforts that help keep Santa Clara County a safe place to live and work. The rest of the agreement is fairly straightforward, and does not alter in any way my role as the county's elected Chief Law Enforcement official."
However, he had claimed at one point last summer that he had unlimited authority over paid leave. The contract caps the amount of paid "administrative" leave he can grant at 80 hours. Additional hours would have to be approved by county officials.
The contract is expected to be approved Thursday by union members, including not only prosecutors, but also public defenders and child-support lawyers. The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors will then ratify it Feb. 4.
The intense power struggle between Rosen and the union exploded into public view this past summer, leading to a civil investigation by the state attorney general into Rosen's granting of paid leave to his top deputies to make up for a 5 percent bonus they lost as part of countywide cutbacks, on top of a 3 percent cutback in pay. Rosen was cleared of any wrongdoing.
The agreement also establishes extra compensatory time for special duties, such as on-call homicides. Some of Rosen's supporters had said the union was jeopardizing that benefit by protesting his granting of paid leave to his deputies.
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport.