A federal judge has temporarily blocked Nassau County from implementing a law allowing modification of county contracts, furloughs and pay freezes in order to finance tax certiorari judgments and settlements.

In issuing a preliminary injunction in Donohue v. Mangano, 12-cv-2568, Eastern District Judge Arthur Spatt (See Profile) scrutinized Local Law 315-12, which permitted, among other things, pay freezes, furloughs and contract modifications. It also restricted hours of operation at county facilities and the shuttering or reduction of agencies not mandated by state or federal law. County Executive Edward Mangano proposed the law after the county legislature failed to approve bonds to finance settlements and tax certiorari judgments; the measure sought to reap $40 million in savings.

The day after the legislature passed the law in May, three employee unions filed lawsuits, which have since been consolidated. The unions raised federal claims, including violations of the U.S. Constitution’s contract clause, and state claims charging violations of the Open Meetings Law.

In his 61-page decision, Spatt acknowledged the county’s budgetary constraints but wrote, “[E]ven dire fiscal circumstances cannot warrant the overly broad and substantial impairment to the Plaintiffs’ clear constitutional contractual rights that likely results from LL 315-12.”

Spatt held that the unions had established a likelihood of success and imminent harm with implementation of the law.

“[T]he creation of authority in the County Executive to unilaterally and limitlessly ‘modify any County contracts’ in contravention of any currently existing [collective bargaining agreements] is likely a constitutional injury in and of itself,” Spatt wrote. He declined jurisdiction over the unions’ state claims, noting a separate action is proceeding in state court.