Dave Rogers

For The Record

Like rainy weather and Interstate 10 construction, the squabble between Orange County and its sheriff’s deputies won’t go away.

Beyond the obvious fact that deputies and commissioners’ court members past and present spent more than four years coming to an agreement last fall on only some of their work rules, there’s this reason the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association failed to endorse any incumbents for the 2018 elections:

“The commissioners are suing us again,” Charles Williams, association president, said.

Not surprisingly, Stephen Brint Carlton, Orange County Judge, does not agree with Williams’ choice of words.

But legal papers are in the 163rd District Court that are again ginning up billable hours for the two sides’ attorneys.

It’s the result of a grievance filed by the deputies in 2016 when commissioners’ court voted to institute a sliding scale for retiree health insurance as part of the 2016-17 budget.

Last September, the two sides reached agreement on a number of key amendments to their 2013 collective bargaining agreement, but several others were still to be decided, like the grievance over the sliding scale.

Arbitrator Norman Bennett ruled in favor of the deputies in November. The county is appealing Bennett’s ruling.

“We’re not suing,” said Carlton. “We’re defending an action that we took. Actually the union has sued the county. The union has initiated the litigation by filing a grievance and taking it to arbitration.

“It [arbitration] is part of the contract, but if you think there’s something legally wrong with the decision, you’re defending yourself in saying you’re going to appeal.”

Greg Cagle, attorney for the Texas Municipal Police Association which represents Orange deputies, continued the wordplay.

“So now they’ve sued the deputies again,” he said. “It’s pretty rare for a county to sue its deputies. But for $300, you can sue anybody.

“We never sued them. We followed the contract and went to arbitration.”

Carlton said the fact that the arbitrator ruled against the county was no shocker.

“It is not really a big surprise because the county has lost every single arbitration between the union and the county that’s ever been filed and pretty much every one has been appealed and goes on to district court,” the judge said.

“The court appealed the decision, not just because we don’t like the decision, but we think the decision has some legal deficiencies to it.”

Next for the matter, Cagle said Tuesday, is for Judge Dennis Powell to set a status hearing.

“Nothing’s been set as far as trial dates or anything else,” Carlton said.

It was reported in last week’s editions of the Record Newspapers that none of the members of commissioners’ court running for re-election – Carlton and commissioners Barry Burton and Jody Crump — attended the deputies’ meeting to decide on election endorsements.

Carlton said there were good explanations for skipping the January meeting.

“It was my understanding Commissioner Burton had an event already at that time,” Carlton said, “but for me and Commissioner Crump, I sent a message back to them and said, it wouldn’t be right to come to an event seeking an endorsement when we currently have litigation that is ongoing.”