Union again beats state in private prison legal fight
For the second time, the union representing Florida correctional officers has succeeded in convincing a judge to order a halt to the Legislature's plan to privatize 29 South Florida prisons.
Early Saturday, Leon County Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford stopped the project a second time, handing another political victory to the Florida Police Benevolent Association and another legal setback to the Legislature and Department of Corrections. (Read the judge's order at the end of this post).
"The Department of Corrections, its attorneys, agents and employees are directed to cease and desist all actions relating to the procurement process on the prison privatization RFP (request for proposals), and shall forthwith refrain from taking any further action inconsistent with this Court's final judgment," Fulford wrote.
Fulford first stopped the outsourcing venture in August when she ruled that the Legislature had illegally ordered the massive outsourcing venture through so-called provison language, rather than by passing a bill. Attorney General Pam Bondi, acting on behalf of the Legislature, appealed that ruling Monday, which the state says had the effect of suspending Fulford's order. The Department of Corrections then re-started the bid process and the union went back to court demanding that it be stopped again.
At a 45-minute hearing Friday afternoon, PBA lawyer Stephen Turner described the prison system's latest move as "sneaky" and said the union's legal challenge is similar to a bid protest, and that "you should not do anything when there's a challenge." The lawyer for the state, Assistant Attorney General Jon Glogau, replied: "The agency isn't trying to be sneaky. All they're trying to do is move the ball forward." The casually-attired Glogau (in photo above) was with his family at a Greek food festival when he was summoned to the courthouse for the emergency 4:30 p.m. hearing.
The PBA took testimony by phone from one of its top union officials, Capt. James Baiardi (left), who said "the panic has begun again" among some 4,000 guards and their families now that the state is again seeking proposals to privatize. Baiardi, the lead plaintiff in the case, works at the South Florida Reception Center in Miami.
He testified that he and his wife have discussed separating so he can take a new job upstate. "We've talked about me leaving and leaving the children behind," he testified, "and possibly losing our house." Fulford cited Baiardi's testimony in her Saturday order as evidence of the "irreparable injury" that could occur if the project were to move ahead. Her order for now blocks the state from accepting proposals from vendors (the state had set a deadline of 2 p.m. on Thursday, Nov 10).
The Department of Corrections, the initial defendant in the case, did not appeal Judge Fulford's decision. Rather, Bondi appealed at the request of the Legislature, which PBA attorney Turner called "a very strange circumstance."