After a whirlwind 10 days since the State Labor Relations Board issued a ruling that the town must return firefighters to their previous four-platoon shift schedule, Superior Court Judge Brian Stern issued a partial stay of that decision Monday. Simultaneously, Stern told lawyers for the town, the firefighters and the SLRB to get clarification from the Supreme Court on a stay the high court issued in May.
The ruling means the firefighters will continue to work in the three-platoon, 24-hour shift schedule imposed by the town in March 2012.
Stern's first order of business Monday was to rule on the town's motion he recuse himself from the case because of previous rulings he's made regarding the firefighters and the town.
He ruled in December 2012 that the Town did not have the right to implement a 24-hour work shift for its firefighters without first negotiating or winning in arbitration, ordering town officials to "unring the bell" on the change.
In a motion filed Friday, the town argued Stern should recuse himself because the Labor Board "relied upon and included in its appendices Judge Stern's decision…."
In his ruling Monday, Stern rejected the town's argument.
"This court will treat this matter on its own merits," he said, adding later, "The court finds there is no subjective or objective reason for recusal."
Stern then took up first of the two motions filed last week in response to the SLRB's decision.
On Monday, Sept. 30, the town and the State Labor Relations Board filed simultaneous motions in two different Superior Courts. The town's motion sought a stay of the SLRB ruling and the SLRB's motion sought immediate enforcement of its decision.
The two motions were consolidated and assigned to Judge Stern. Stern heard arguments from all three attorneys on the town's motion.
Representing the town, Tim Cavazza argued that under the town's home-rule charter, management rights reside with the Town Council and the town's public safety official, who the council says is Town Manager Mike Embury.
In addition, he cited the Supreme Court's decision in May granting a stay of Stern's Dec. 2012 decision. Judge Stern questioned Cavazza about whether or not the Supreme Court's stay extended to new decisions, specifically the one made by the SLRB on Sept. 27.
"The town's position is that the Supreme Court's stay continue while the fundamental issues are argued," he said. Because of that, he said, the SLRB did not have the jurisdiction to make a ruling in the case.
SLRB lawyer Margaret Hogan argued the SLRB did have jurisdiction and that the Supreme Court's May decision did not prohibit it from ruling on the case. She urged Stern to reject the town's arguments, arguing it would take away the SLRB's power.
"Our position is that if the court issues a stay and doesn't enforce the board's order, you'll find this sort of action bubbling up all over the state," she said.
Firefighter union lawyer Elizabeth Wien also argued against the granting of a stay. "This court is to upload the legal agency," she said, referring to the SLRB.
Stern then granted the partial stay and said, "It is appropriate for the court to order the parties to convene a conference with the duty justice of the Supreme Court to find out whether or not the Supreme Court's stay applies to this case."
The state Supreme Court's "duty justice" could issue or it could be taken up by the entire Supreme Court.
Concurrently, the lawyers were told to submit briefs by the end of day Tuesday with anything else they'd like to add or address in Monday's oral arguments.