Former Gov. John G. Rowland has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his appeal of a lower court ruling that found his administration illegally used layoffs in 2003 to punish state employee unions.

But counsel for the unions and state employees said Monday he’s skeptical that the nation’s highest court will hear the case, especially since Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration has agreed to negotiate with workers to settle the matter.

A coalition of 13 state employee unions sued to challenge 2,800 layoffs Rowland ordered in December 2002 in response to a growing state budget deficit. The Republican governor, they charged, specifically targeted bargaining units to punish them for supporting Democrat William E. Curry Jr. in that year’s gubernatorial contest.

Both sides have agreed that the Rowland administration followed all appropriate seniority rules when the layoffs were enforced. But they also agreed that the job cuts weren’t based on any analysis of the state’s workforce needs.

“The question is not whether these facts are true … but whether, like the allegations concerning subjective motive, they are legally relevant,” Hartford attorney Daniel J. Klau, who represents Rowland and former Rowland budget chief Marc S. Ryan, wrote in his petition to the Supreme Court.

Klau argued in his brief that a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit erred last May when it concluded that Rowland’s layoffs were improper because they targeted unionized workers. The job cuts were made in accordance with procedures outlined in labor contracts, and allegations about the governor’s motives are irrelevant, counsel wrote.

But Stamford attorney David S. Golub, who represents the unions and state workers, said Monday that there’s really nothing for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear right now.

Since the federal appeals court ruled — sending the case back to U.S. District Court in Hartford to determine damages — the Malloy administration has indicated it will negotiate with the unions and workers to find a remedy. Both sides are expected to begin talks in 2014.

The lawsuit is a civil rights action aimed at Rowland and Marc Ryan in both their official capacity, and as individuals. Ryan, as Rowland’s secretary of policy and management, oversaw labor issues. Though it is possible, if negotiations fail, that the unions still could seek punitive damages against both former officials, Rowland and Ryan also could petition the U.S. Supreme Court at that time.

“The Supreme Court isn’t going to take a case under those circumstances, especially when the whole case may go away under settlement,” Golub said.

But the state does continue to pay Rowland and Ryan’s legal bills.

“What is Rowland doing here?” Golub added. “He shouldn’t be trying to circumvent what the state has decided is the right way to handle the case. This isn’t rocket science. Why would you waste taxpayers’ money on attorney’s fees when the Supreme Court is being told this case may be settled?”

Klau declined to comment Monday, but he told The Mirror earlier this month that if the U.S. Supreme Court were petitioned, he expects a response to be provided by early February.

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Keith M. PhaneufState Budget Reporter

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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