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Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland’s lawyers moved last week to have a suit against him and his budget chief, over the layoffs of roughly 3,000 state employees, thrown out of court. In a motion to dismiss filed Feb. 24 in U.S. District Court in Hartford, Conn., Rowland argues the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) suit is flawed because it impermissibly asks the court to overrule political decisions by elected state officials. The governor’s response to union claims that the layoffs violated workers’ free speech and freedom of association rights, because they targeted union members, comes on the heels of his victory in a related federal court action. Ruling from the bench last month, U.S. District Judge Dominic J. Squatrito denied a group of state social workers a temporary restraining order to halt their impending layoffs, which were set to take place Feb. 20. The plaintiffs in Abbey v. Rowland, all psychiatric social workers or social worker assistants, had two days to make their case to Squatrito. But they failed to convince him that, without injunctive relief, they would suffer “irreparable harm” — an essential element that must be proven before a TRO is granted. “The plaintiffs,” Squatrito noted in his Feb. 19 written decision, “have admitted that they are all eligible for unemployment compensation, and some have adequate personal financial resources.” They have neither shown they are about to be forced out into the streets or into the throes of bankruptcy, the judge points out in a footnote. Not finding irreparable harm, Squatrito doesn’t take up the second prong of the preliminary injunction test — whether the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their case. That is, presumably, a decision for another day. UNION SPLIT As for the action lodged by the union coalition, “The governor said from the beginning that this suit was without merit,” said Chris Cooper, Rowland’s spokesman. “As the CEO of the state, the governor does have the right to determine employment levels.” Stamford, Conn., attorney David S. Golub, who is representing SEBAC, has a different interpretation of the governor’s position. “What he’s saying is he’s above the law and no court can hold him responsible,” said Golub, of Silver Golub & Teitell. “That’s not how our legal system works. That’s not how our constitution works.” In an interesting twist, a union representing University of Connecticut professors has pulled out of the lawsuit, saying it won’t help resolve the dispute with the governor. The union has previously split from other state bargaining units by agreeing to a wage freeze to avoid layoffs at the university. “No matter how valid the case might be theoretically, it is not something that will help induce a settlement” with the Rowland administration, said Edward Marth, the executive director of the American Association of University Professors’ chapter at UConn. “You can’t sue your way into a working arrangement with the state.” Other unions, however, criticized the professors. It’s easy for them — many of whom make $100,000 a year — to accept a pay freeze, but it’s difficult for clerk typists earning $25,000 to do the same, they countered. Wire reports contributed to this story.

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