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SAN JOSE � Santa Clara County will be in court next week defending itself against accusations that officials refused to negotiate a new contract with an attorney union last year. However, the president of the Government Attorneys Association, Paul Colin, has told county leaders that the union will dropped this unfair-practice complaint and two others if Santa Clara agrees to a “modest” contract proposal. “As far as we are concerned, these issues could be negotiated on the [bargaining] table and not litigation,” said Colin, a deputy district attorney who was appointed union president in September. “I think we can settle our disputes reasonably and modestly.” Some union members have expressed a fear that the county is harboring bad feelings over the contentious 2004 campaign for Measure C, a failed ballot initiative that would have required binding arbitration in workplace disputes, including those involving public attorneys. What the union is proposing is a 4 percent raise � the same given to deputies in the county counsel office in 2003 � and a two-year “golden handshake” boost to its retirement package. The retirement incentive tacks on two additional years of service credit to employees who agree to retire early. Attorneys are also asking that future contract disputes be resolved through arbitration and for an agreement that the county charter’s prevailing wage provision won’t be revised. The union represents attorneys in the district attorney and public defender’s offices and in child support services. Negotiations are set to resume again on Friday. Colin said county officials have shown a “resistance” to the union’s contract proposal. “We aren’t asking for some huge raise,” he said. Colin added that the union’s proposal would save the county millions of dollars in the long run. Luke Leung, the county’s human resources director, declined to publicly comment on the current contract talks. “We want to resolve these things through the negotiation process,” he said. “Just because a complaint is issued doesn’t mean there was any wrongdoing.” The union is claiming that Santa Clara County officials intentionally refused to give union members the “golden handshake” deal, while offering it to other employees. Assistant County Counsel Nancy Clark says the retirement deal wasn’t a countywide benefit. “It does not fit under [the attorneys union] contract,” Clark said. But union reps begged to differ and filed charges against the county last year with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board. The board agreed that the union has enough evidence to file a complaint against Santa Clara officials. County and union officials tried to work out their differences in mediation meetings earlier this year. When those failed, a Jan. 24 trial was scheduled for next year before an administrative law judge in PERB’s Oakland offices. According to County Counsel Ann Ravel, who represents county officials in the issue, the attorneys’ contract debate has been “far more acrimonious than just about any other” negotiation she has been through. Colin, on the other hand, says he hopes both parties can “let bygones be bygones.” Union reps say the standoff over Measure C, which failed at the polls, bruised the county’s relationship with the union, and some suspect that Santa Clara officials might be holding a grudge at the bargaining table. The union supported the measure, while county officials vehemently opposed it. Santa Clara’s campaign tactics were eventually called into question. A lawsuit filed in superior court, DiQuisto v. Santa Clara County, 1-04-CV-020671, alleges the county illegally used taxpayer dollars to help defeat Measure C. The litigation is currently pending. In the middle of the Measure C campaign, the attorneys’ association contract expired, and union leaders claim the county refused to begin negotiating a new one. But Leung pointed out that when the union’s contract expired in August 2004, it was automatically extended for an additional year. There is a provision in the union’s contract that requires written notice at least 60 days before the contract expires if either party wishes to open negotiations. The county says the union never gave written notice in 2004. “That’s our position, and I think it’s a strong one,” Clark said. But union leaders say they had alerted county officials several times in writing that they wished to continue contract talks. “The county’s failure to continue negotiations constituted the basis for an unfair labor practice,” the union wrote in its filings with the public employment relations board on Aug. 9, 2004. According to a salary survey conducted by the California District Attorneys Association, Santa Clara County attorneys are some of the highest paid in the state. Top-level attorneys here make roughly $20,000 to $30,000 more than top-level attorneys in San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, according to the data. “The criminal justice system costs money,” said Christopher Platten, the union’s counsel and a partner with Wylie, McBride, Jesinger, Platten & Renner. “This is the most expensive place to live. We aren’t in Fresno.”

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