The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled this week in favor of the Fraternal Order of Police, which has been at an impasse with Pasco Sheriff Bob White for more than three years over disciplinary procedures.
The court said White cannot act as his own "legislative body" to decide contract terms in his favor after reaching a stalemate with deputies at the bargaining table.
"This proves what we've said all along — that we're on the right legal side of this thing," said local FOP president William Lawless, who is a sergeant at the Sheriff's Office.
The court's ruling, issued Tuesday, says the County Commission should settle matters if the sheriff and the union can't agree.
Lawless said only two words are at the heart of the impasse: just cause. He said the union wants the contract changed to where deputies can be demoted with "just cause" rather than "cause," as he says it is now.
Lawless said deputies can be demoted one full rank every six months without superiors having to justify that decision.
"You can't challenge it," Lawless said. "You can't appeal it."
But White hasn't budged on that provision.
At White's request earlier this year, state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, introduced a bill that would have given sheriffs the authority to break impasses in labor negotiations. The bill passed the Senate but died in the House of Representatives in May. The FOP fought against the bill, claiming it removed any incentive for the sheriff to negotiate and was meant to intimidate deputies from being involved in collective bargaining.
White could appeal this week's court ruling.
"We are reviewing the court's decision to determine what, if any, action comes next," said sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.