As City Awaits Ruling in "Billion-Dollar Case," New Lawsuits Were Just Added to the Pile
Joe Betzel, one of the Dallas Fire-Rescue workers who filed suit against the city -- yet again -- today
Back in December we wrote a few items about the so-called "billion-dollar case" currently being considered by the Supreme Court of Texas. Very long story way too short: It stems from a 1979 referendum during which voters OK'd pay raises for firefighters, police officers and rescue workers with the caveat that there would always be "a pay differential between the grades in the sworn ranks." But sooner than later, rescue workers alleged, city officials started tipping the pay scale in favor of a few higher-ups, and lawsuits were filed. City Attorney Tom Perkins has said that the referendum was for a one-time pay raise and not forever after.
The Supreme Court of Texas has yet to hand down its ruling after hearing oral arguments from the City Attorney's Office and plaintiffs' attorneys shortly before Christmas; could be weeks or months before that happens. But in the meantime, we just got word that several Austin attorneys have filed four more lawsuits on the rescue workers' behalf -- these naming Mayor Tom Leppert, City Manager Mary Suhm and the current city council, even though none of them were involved in the original referendum or named in the earlier litigation.
I am waiting on a copy of the suit, which was filed moments ago, and a call back from attorneys Terry Scarborough, Jay Stewart and Lee Parsley who filed the litigation. I will update accordingly. All we have to go on for now is the release, which follows after the jump, which explains why they've filed yet another suit in this long-ongoing litigation. An excerpt:
"It's certainly disappointing to say that the City would not try to resolve this for their First Responders. They owe a lot to their First Responders, and they've made no effort through their lawyers to bring this to a resolution," [says] Scarborough. "The City is simply looking for its way out legally rather than stepping up to the plate, doing the right thing by their First Responders and reaching a resolution both sides can live with."
Update at 2:13 p.m.: After the jump is one of the four suits filed in Collin County Judicial District Court. Since all four more or less read the same, save for the names of the plaintiffs and the departments in which they worked, I've just uploaded the one.
First Responders File Suit against Dallas Mayor, City Manager and City Council Members
Individual Lawsuits Continuation of Litigation Surrounding 1979 Referendum
DALLAS, Texas--May 6, 2010--City of Dallas fire fighters and police officers filed suit today against the Mayor of Dallas, the City Manager and City Council members in an attempt to resolve litigation pending for 16 years. The long delayed and ongoing litigation revolves around the City of Dallas' refusal to pay these First Responders what they are owed under a 1979 voter-approved referendum.
"City of Dallas attorneys invited these individual suits against City of Dallas officials," said Terry Scarborough, lead trial attorney representing the Dallas First Responders. "We had no choice but to serve the mayor himself and other city officials with the lawsuit after City attorneys told us we could not file suit against the City itself and had to instead file against City officials."
Dallas police officers and fire fighters initially filed suit against the City of Dallas when the City failed to honor a 1979 voter-approved referendum involving pay for the First Responders. June 30, 2010 marks the 16th anniversary of this litigation, which the City of Dallas has intentionally delayed with countersuits and other legal maneuverings. "We filed individual suits against the Dallas mayor and city administrators in our attempt to have this never-ending case resolved," said James Wallace, a retired Dallas police sergeant who served on the force for 40 years. "We hope the mayor sees this latest development as an opportunity to honor the loyal service of First Responders to the City and its citizens by helping bring this case to an amicable resolution once and for all."
"It's certainly disappointing to say that the City would not try to resolve this for their First Responders. They owe a lot to their First Responders, and they've made no effort through their lawyers to bring this to a resolution," continued Scarborough. "The City is simply looking for its way out legally rather than stepping up to the plate, doing the right thing by their First Responders and reaching a resolution both sides can live with."
The individual suits against the mayor and other city officials are in response to the May 1, 2009 Texas Supreme Court ruling in Heinrich v. The City of El Paso. The Court held in the Heinrich opinion that citizens suing their government must sometimes sue government officials rather than the government itself for acting beyond their authority.
Today's filing asserts that the government officials in Dallas are liable for their unlawful acts, not the City itself, as dictated by the Court's ruling in Heinrich.
"I strongly believe that 16 years of litigation is too much," said Joe Betzel, Dallas fire fighter. "Today's lawsuit is our attempt to see justice finally served in this case that the City of Dallas has ceaselessly delayed."
In 1979, the City of Dallas passed an ordinance to implement a voter-approved referendum involving pay for the City's First Responders, including police officers and fire fighters. First Responders first filed suit against the City when the City failed to honor its ordinance.
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