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Appeals court upholds ruling barring Phoenix from paying police officers for union work

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PHOENIX — The state court of appeals on Tuesday upheld a judge's ruling permanently blocking Phoenix from paying police officers for doing union work, a decision that could bar county and city governments from writing similar provisions into their union contracts.

The Court of Appeals ruling agreed with a Maricopa County Superior Court judge's finding that the practice used by the city of Phoenix in its contract with the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association violates the state constitution's gift clause because it doesn't benefit the public.

The suit filed by the Goldwater Institute led to a ruling by Judge Katherine Cooper that the practice was illegal. Cooper permanently blocked the release time provisions in January 2014 and Phoenix and the union appealed.

Phoenix was spending $1.7 million over two years to pay six full-time officers to handle union work and two others to respond to major incidents. The appeals court ruling says there were no specific official duties for the officers when working for union.

The appeals court said the lack of specific duties imposed on the union in the memorandum of understanding made the clause in the contract unconstitutional. But the ruling was narrow, and does not necessarily bar any contracts from containing similar provisions if they include specific duties on the union that benefit the public.

"We leave the constitutionality of such an MOU or other release time agreement for another day," Judge Randall M. Howe wrote for the three-judge panel.

"Today the Arizona appeals court ruled that cities can't spend taxpayer money and get nothing in return," Clint Bolick, the Goldwater Institute's vice president for litigation, said in a statement. "Hopefully this will put an end, once and for all, to this huge and widespread taxpayer scam."

Phoenix spokesman David Urbinato said in a statement that the city has reviewed the ruling "and will be comprehensively discussing options and potential next steps."

Union officials weren't immediately available for comment.

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