Federal Court Rules on City Labor Issues

Federal Judge mediates City-APOA disputes

It gets confusing when a police union negotiates its union contract in the middle of a federal lawsuit over unconstitutional policing.  But that’s what’s happening in Albuquerque, and so far that’s been okay with Robert Brack, the U.S. District Judge presiding over the DOJ’s pattern-or-practice excessive force case against the City.

According to the Union, applying the new disciplinary standards retroactively would result in officers being punished now for things that failed to warrant punishment in the past.

So when City Attorney Jessica Hernandez and Police Union lawyer Fred Mowrer informed Judge Brack that they needed his help in working out a problem over the City’s promotional policy, the Judge agreed to set a briefing schedule and rule on their concerns.

The federal Judge was apparently unaware, however, that first, he was overriding the City’s labor relations system. Second, he was effectively ordering the City to disregard the extreme past misconduct of one particular officer, Brett Lampiris-Tremba, the City’s poster-child for excessive force killings, and consider him for promotion to Sergeant.

Thus, in a highly unusual set of motions, the City and its Police Union lawyer are “working out” some of their labor issues and essentially negotiating their contract disputes in the midst of the DOJ’s case on excessive force and systemic problems with the DOJ lawyers looking on and the federal judge acting as the final arbiter.

Although the issue appears to be promotional policy, the broader and far more important concern is whether the federal court should conduct negotiations and ultimately decide issues that are matters of City policy. And even beyond that is the question of how much of the party’s and the court’s policy revision process is properly a public process and whether and when public participation should be or should have been invited.

The Police Union raised the promotional issues on August 25, 2016 by giving “Notice of Objection to APD Promotional Policy…” The City filed its response a month later.

The Court ruled, issuing its November 30, 2016, Opinion.


The Court ordered the parties (i.e., the City and APOA) to clarify the definitions it was using for its promotional policy and declared the policy invalid as a violation of due process to the extent it allowed for officer misconduct before the date of the Settlement Agreement to be used for disqualification from the promotional lists.

The Court’s ruling only led to more dispute and on March 16, 2017, an Assistant City Attorney filed the City’s “Reply in Support of the Motion for Clarification of the Finding on Retroactivity.”

Among the questions that are still unanswered are whether the federal judge is knowingly granting immunity to APD officers for their prior bad conduct before entry of the Settlement Agreement. The Court held that refusing to allow promotion of killer-cops would violate their due process due to it being retroactive application of a new rule.

The City’s Reply to its Motion for Clarification was filed on the same day the Police Oversight Board was holding its March meeting and discussing how they could “get a seat” at the policy table:

According to City Attorney Jessica Hernandez, the City and the Union have been submitting their promotional policy arguments to the Monitor, whose ruling can be appealed to the judge. The federal court’s final “clarification” of the APD promotional policy is now due by the time the case goes before the Judge again on May 8.

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