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SAN JOSE — A superior court judge issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday suggesting that Santa Clara County officials made an end run around state political laws by obtaining a union’s agreement not to support a controversial November ballot initiative. By demanding an agreement not to support Measure C as part of its collective bargaining process, county officials may have violated rules preventing counties from using public funds for partisan purposes, Judge Socrates “Pete” Manoukian wrote. Measure C would require binding arbitration in workplace disputes, including those involving public attorneys. The ruling comes just days before the Nov. 2 election. “This court believes that the evidence here is consistent with a finding that the actions of the defendants appears to violate certain laws pertaining to the use of public funds in the advocacy of certain political issues,” Manoukian wrote. “This court believes the evidence does not support any other position.” Manoukian stressed that it was a preliminary injunction, not a final ruling on the merits of the case. Nevertheless, the ruling was highly critical of county actions. “This court does find that the actions of the defendants were aimed at the electorate,” he wrote. According to the decision, the county and Deputy Sheriff’s Association began collective bargaining last year. The sheriffs were offered a standard contract, but signaled that they were looking for a substantial raise and increase in benefits commensurate with other law enforcement personnel in Santa Clara County. Eventually, the two sides reached a deal. Although the sheriffs had initially indicated they would support a binding arbitration initiative, they executed a side-letter agreeing not to support such a measure. Negotiations with other county unions have not been finalized, but Manoukian found that they have included demands not to support Measure C — what the judge described as “quid pro quo arrangements.” He also found that County Supervisor Blanca Alvarado sent e-mails from a county account to employees urging a no vote on Measure C and yes votes on two related measures. Manoukian rejected the county’s argument that the e-mails were legal because they were not aimed at the overall electorate. Lawyers for the county said they would appeal. “This increases our resolve to fight what appears to be an attempt to prohibit the Board [of Supervisors] from doing what is their obligation as elected public officials — to tell the public about the negative impact on the budget of Measure C,” County Counsel Ann Ravel said. County officials claim binding arbitration could cost as much as $15 million in one year alone. Deputy District Attorney James Shore, president of the Government Attorneys Association, could not be reached for comment. But others involved in the ballot dispute were relieved by the ruling. “The entire coalition is pleased, and voters should be pleased, because the county won’t be able to waste taxpayers dollars to illegally campaign,” said Thomas Saggau, a lobbyist with San Jose’s Saggau & DeRollo, a lobbying firm representing the attorney’s union. County officials criticized Manoukian for the timing of his decision. The matter was argued June 25. Manoukian had ordered further briefing two weeks ago on the Alvarado e-mail issue. “For the judge to issue a decision right before the election, when he said on several occasions that he was going to rule months ago, is unfortunate,” Ravel said.

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