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A badge doesn’t get you very far in Los Angeles these days. Fed up with what they say are overly invasive security procedures at one of the state’s largest office buildings, a union for the California attorney general office’s rank and file prosecutors filed suit this month to force the state to sit down at the negotiating table and work out new procedures with them. The prosecutors, all of whom have undergone background checks and carry law enforcement badges, say they have been harassed and even threatened with arrest by California Highway Patrol officers, who handle security at Los Angeles’ Ronald Reagan State Building. “Accounts from DAGs of improper searches and seizures and intrusions into privacy, unwarranted threats of criminal prosecution, insensitivity to nursing mothers and concerning the irradiation of food, and sexual harassment abound,” the complaint reads. California Highway Patrol Commissioner D.O. Helmick said he would resolve the complaints as soon as possible and denied that his officers have threatened anyone with arrest. “That is absolutely, unequivocally not true,” Helmick said, basing the statement on his own investigation. If it were true, he said. “I’ll pull those highway patrolmen in a second.” The CHP provides security for all state buildings. Though the buildings are managed by the state Department of General Services, Helmick said security procedures are established through the tenants of the building, including the Second District Court of Appeal. And all tenants in the Ronald Reagan State Building are happy with security there, Helmick said — except the prosecutors. About 360 deputy attorneys general work at Ronald Reagan, alongside hundreds of other state employees. The number represents about one-third of Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s armada of lawyers. In court affidavits, the prosecutors describe baby food and going-away cakes being put through the metal detector (the cake fell over). One mother of a toddler said her sterilized breast pump was handled by building security. One man had a toolkit taken away from him, and said that when he asked to make a complaint against an officer, he was threatened with arrest. Kyle Brodie, one of three directors of the California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges and Hearing Officers in State Employment union who works at Ronald Reagan, said the officers have also been verbally abusive toward the DAGs. “‘If we were out on the street, I’d have thrown you to the ground’ — those kinds of things,” Brodie said. The DAGs also have concerns about the handling of sealed evidence and other items already in their offices, such as kitchen knives and letter openers. The problems could be cleared up, Brodie said, if the CHP simply paid attention to the prosecutors’ badges. “They’ve seen us a thousand times. We’re on a first-name basis, practically,” Brodie said. But even “if your badge is there, they do not care.” According to Helmick, that’s true. “I can go buy a badge in any store in San Francisco in about 32 seconds,” Helmick said. “The badge is not worth the metal it’s made of.” Helmick said employees at other state buildings, including in San Francisco, are not having the same problems because they are issued computer-scanned identification cards. Nor are the prosecutors having any trouble at the federal and county buildings they visit. Prosecutors at the Ronald Reagan building have computerized pass keys with which they can enter the building after hours or through an underground parking garage without passing through invasive security measures. But the pass keys aren’t used during regular business hours. “The regular screenings of only the employees who park outside the building, and only during business hours, has resulted in a procedure which appears to be more harassment than sound security policy,” wrote Deputy Attorney General Alan Tate in a court affidavit. In fact, Brodie said, “There are vast holes in the system.” Another DAG, Douglas Wilson, said in court papers that some female lawyers feel they have unfairly been singled out for secondary searches by male officers. However, Helmick said the prosecutors are being subjected to the same searches as everyone else. “They’re not being held up any longer than any other people entering the building,” Helmick said. The union is challenging the security measures through its employment contract. The new measures constitute a change in working conditions, they argue, something that must be negotiated before implementation. For now the case is as much a headache for Helmick as the security is for the DAGs. He says his officers are only following orders. “I just got involved in this, and I’m going to try to fix it,” Helmick said. “This is not our system, this is not our plan. We’re in the middle.” The case, Association of California State Attorneys v. Department of Personnel Administration, was filed Feb. 13 in Los Angeles Superior Court. Pasadena’s Rothner, Segall & Greenstone is handling the case for the union.

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