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SAN JOSE — An ongoing dispute regarding pay for attorneys and other public employees in Santa Clara County has grown so contentious that it is beginning to resemble a cutthroat civil case. At issue in the debate over Measure A, which would change how county employee wages are measured, are the 300-word partisan ballot statements included in voter literature. County officials say remarks by opponents of the measure are inflammatory, and there is even talk that a judge may be asked to intervene. “We haven’t made that determination,” County Counsel Ann Ravel said. “It would require asking a judge to force them to amend the language on the grounds that it is clearly false.” Regardless, Ravel said such an action “is an option when you take a look at the language,” although the county would prefer not to litigate. But county workers say they’re just telling the truth, rejecting claims that the ballot statement should be amended. “It’s just posturing. I don’t think there is any merit to their position,” said Deputy District Attorney James Shore, president of the local government attorneys union. Proposed by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, Measure A would rewrite the county charter so salaries are compared to public-sector pay rather than the private sector — which is typically higher — when being negotiated. Opponents claim the change will drive not only attorneys from the public sector, but nurses and doctors from public hospitals as well. “Career politicians and bureaucrats are trying to fool you. Are you surprised? Don’t be fooled,” reads the opening sentence of the rebuttal arguments. Ravel — whose lawyers would be affected by the provision — especially took offense with the third paragraph, which says: “The politicians are trying to scare you into thinking it’s all about lawyers’ salaries. It’s not. It’s about trying to reduce your public health and safety services so there will be more money for politicians’ pet projects — like a county concert hall.” “Saying that the county is reducing public health and safety services to pay for the concert hall is absurd,” said Ravel, who said the passage is simply untrue because the proposed hall would be funded by local bond measures. Construction was set to begin shortly on the project, but it is now the subject of litigation between the county and the city of San Jose. Opponents of Measure A say the county itself is guilty of misleading voters. Campaign consultant Dustin DeRollo, of political consulting firm Saggau & DeRollo in San Jose, said the county’s statement focuses on lawyers because lawyers have a negative public image — when, in fact, other employees would be affected as well. “They [the county] chose to mislead the voters by telling the public that this was only about attorneys. It affects doctors, nurses and correction officers,” DeRollo said. The county also wants to be able to factor in medical, retirement and dental plans in wage talks. They claim lawyers have used the present system to demand salaries comparable to those paid by big law firms. But many county attorneys say it is only fair for Santa Clara to compare salaries to the private sector when deciding compensation. Otherwise, qualified applicants for openings in the district attorney’s office might be tempted to join private law firms for more money. They say the DA’s office lost a quarter of their attorneys in 1999 and 2000 to big law firms. Neither side is giving an inch, and the fight seems to be getting ugly. “Over the past few months we’ve seen a direct attack on public safety employees and unions and an attempt to curtail their political activity,” DeRollo said. “It’s been very direct and personal towards these employees who are only seeking a fair way to bargain.” The pamphlets containing the arguments have not yet been mailed to voters. Santa Clara’s public lawyers and the county are also at odds over Measure C, which would require binding arbitration to settle employment disputes.

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