The county's Civil Service Commission overstepped its authority when it ordered Ventura County to reinstate two prosecutors who contend they were demoted because they backed the wrong candidate for district attorney, a judge decided this week.
In his ruling, Superior Court Judge Henry J. Walsh found that the district attorney's reassignment of Adam Pearlman and Mark Pachowicz from the felony division to the county's child-support division last April could not be construed as a termination or a demotion.
Those are the only circumstances under which the Civil Service Commission -- an appointed panel that resolves employment disputes -- could get involved, according to the ruling.
"The stated nature of the job at the outset was to perform professional legal services, which were specified as including not only prosecuting felonies, but handling child-support duties as well," Walsh wrote, citing part of the attorneys' job description.
He also pointed out that both Pearlman and Pachowicz retained the same job classification, salary, benefits and seniority in the transfer.
But Pearlman disputed that, saying that he and Pachowicz are at the bottom of the seniority ladder in child support, when they both were near the top in the district attorney's office.
"I don't agree with his conclusion, obviously," Pearlman said. "If there are layoffs, they go by seniority. Mr. Pachowicz is first and I'm next."
Pearlman and Pachowicz vowed to sue the county -- an option they said they tried to avoid by going through the Civil Service Commission to get their jobs back.
"I didn't want to do this, but I'm being forced to because the county doesn't want a hearing at the Civil Service Commission," Pearlman said. "Apparently they want to take the most expensive route, which is to go to federal court."
Pearlman and Pachowicz argue that former Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury sent them to child support -- now a separate county agency -- as punishment for supporting the candidate who challenged his hand-picked successor.
Both attorneys backed Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Bamieh, who lost to Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Greg Totten in last year's election.
But assistant county counsel Leroy Smith said the move was nothing more than a routine reassignment.
Smith praised Walsh's ruling, saying it ensures that county officials have the freedom to transfer employees if necessary.
"If every time we had to make a transfer or reorganize, we had to establish good cause, sufficient to terminating someone's employment, it would create chaos," Smith said. "If these employees think there are some unconstitutional issues, they can always raise that in court. But the Civil Service Commission is not a body designated to hear constitutional lawsuits."
In October, the commission ruled that Pearlman and Pachowicz were removed from their jobs as felony prosecutors -- not merely transferred.
The panel then ordered the office to either reinstate the men as prosecutors or explain why they were reassigned. But county attorneys immediately filed a writ in Superior Court, contending that the commission acted beyond its authority.