Marshals drop labor complaint over police guards at CT courts

Two judicial marshals outside Superior Court in Hartford Thursday.

CTMirror.org File Photo

Two judicial marshals outside Superior Court in Hartford.

Connecticut’s judicial marshals dropped their labor complaint Thursday against the Judicial Branch — a move prompted by court officials’ decision to stop using state police to secure urban courthouses.

But the head of the marshals’ bargaining unit, Joseph Gaetano, also warned that the group would continue to challenge the use of troopers last month through the union grievance process.

“We continue to urge the Judicial Branch to make staffing choices that make the most cost-effective use of trained staff to keep our courthouses safe,” Gaetano said. “If we believe Connecticut’s courthouses need armed public safety staff, we urge the branch to recall laid-off marshals, who know the buildings and the personnel, and give them the tools they need to do the job.”

A branch spokeswoman declined to comment Thursday on the union’s statement and its decision to withdraw the labor complaint.

The dispute centered on two recent developments:

  • The branch’s decision to lay off 101 marshals as part of a larger cost-cutting effort after facing more than $77 million in reductions this fiscal year ordered by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the General Assembly.
  • And the hiring of state police troopers to enhance security for two weeks outside of courthouses in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury.

Branch officials insisted the two matters were not linked, but the union challenged that assertion.

In a complaint filed with the state Board of Labor Relations, the union argued that the temporary use of troopers to enhance security is permitted under its contract with the state — but not if it supplants security services provided by marshals.

Troopers originally were hired — at $60 to $75 per hour — to patrol outside of a Bridgeport courthouse on Friday, June 17, one day after a gang-related fight broke out outside the building. The branch then retained troopers to secure the perimeters of courthouses in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury for two more weeks.

Branch officials did not cite gang activity in the other three cities, but said only that it was appropriate to retain the added security temporarily.

Troopers — unlike marshals — are permitted to carry guns, and have been hired in the past to enhance security, particularly if gang activity has occurred, court officials said.

The marshals’ union says that marshals should be authorized to carry firearms.

The use of troopers to enhance court security ended this week.

Branch officials have said they are grappling with a new budget that asks the court system to bear an unfair share of state government’s fiscal woes.

Malloy and the legislature reduced branch funding by $77 million below the preliminary 2016-17 budget established last summer. Trying to close a nearly $1 billion deficit in the overall state budget without raising taxes, the governor and legislature imposed cuts on most agencies, though court officials say the Judicial Branch is absorbing a disproportionate amount of fiscal pain.

Part of the branch’s response to that cut was 239 layoffs — including 101 marshals — and the elimination of another 61 temporary positions.

Both branch officials and union leaders have said they believe the current contingent of 667 marshals should be larger. It’s well below the 840-marshal level the court system enjoyed in the early 2000s.

Further complicating matters, the Judicial Branch also is counting on eliminating 200 to 300 positions across the branch in 2016-17 through retirements, resignations and other attrition factors to keep its budget in balance. Court officials have said about 60 marshals retire annually, on average, and it’s unclear whether those will be replaced.

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