A former sergeant with the now-defunct Madison Police Department, David Trask, is appealing a decision in a case in which he says the Fraternal Order of Police breached its duty to represent him.

Trask, like several other Madison officers, had been absorbed into the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office in July 2015 after the town voted to discontinue its police force in light of the loss of tax revenue from the closing of Madison Paper Industries.

Trask, of Skowhegan, maintains the Maine Labor Relations Board decision against him — which was upheld on appeal at the superior court level — is incorrect.

On Wednesday, Trask’s attorney, Robert Sandy, asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, to overturn that decision. Sandy maintains, among other things, there was no evidence to support the board’s decision.

The court issues rulings in writings after considering the oral arguments and the briefs.

Sandy maintains the union failed in its representation of Trask when the town was contracting out police services to the county, and that the failure was “far beyond mere negligence.”

At the oral argument session at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland, Sandy said, “For 51 years, it has been the law of the land that when there is a contracting out, there is a mandatory obligation on the part of the union to bargain.”

He said Trask’s issues should have been brought to arbitration.

Associate Justice Ellen Gorman asked, “How can the town be forced to bargain with its former employees?”

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley told Sandy, “There’s nothing in the record that indicates (the union) acted in bad faith.”

“What we’re still talking about is a failure on the part of the union to recognize what was about to happen,” she added. “The union thought it was bargaining the next contract and misunderstood what the circumstances were for the town. … It’s still mistakes; it’s not discrimination against the client.”

Benjamin Grant, the attorney representing the Fraternal Order of Police, told the justices, “The union at a minimum made a rational decision. It requested bargaining immediately after the town voted to disband the Police Department.”

“Reasonable minds can disagree as to whether this was a contracting out or plant closing,” he said.

Grant said Trask asked the union to be at the impact bargaining session, and it was.

“After it happened, he said he was satisfied even though he didn’t get what he wanted,” Grant said.

In the intervening superior court appeal, Justice William Stokes rejected Trask’s claims that the Maine Labor Relations Board had erred.

“The court is satisfied that, taken as a whole, the record fairly and reasonably supports the ultimate conclusion that the FOP’s actions and decisions were not outside the range of reasonableness so as to be irrational,” Stokes wrote in a decision dated Jan. 30.

“(I)t is significant that the FOP sought and obtained the advice of legal counsel on the national and state level,” he also wrote. “Based on that advice, the FOP determined that the Town of Madison was under no legal obligation to bargain over the impact of the decision of the voters to eliminate its police department.”

The police consolidation plan was designed to save Madison money after the Madison Paper Industries plant announced it was ceasing operations.

Stokes also found that the police union’s actions were neither discriminatory or invidious, although he noted, “The petitioner did articulate a number of ways in which the elimination of the Madison Police Department affected him because of his longevity, seniority and rank.”

According to Sandy’s brief, Trask had been with the Madison Police Department since January 1985; had reached top seniority, preference for shifts and vacations, fully paid family health insurance — worth about $22,000 annually — and earned about $50,000 a year with overtime before the department was disbanded.

Sandy wrote that Trask learned from Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster that the Madison officers would be treated as “newly hired probationary employees of the Sheriff’s Office and that they would face a substantial reduction in benefits and loss of all seniority.”

When the Fraternal Order of Police requested that Madison and the county engage in impact bargaining, they did so in July 2015, but no agreement was reached. The union filed and then withdrew a prohibited practice complaint against the town.

“The Fraternal Order of Police took no further action in Sergeant Trask’s behalf,” Sandy wrote.

Trask initially filed a lawsuit in state court against the Town of Madison, Somerset County and Lancaster, saying the sheriff fired him abruptly in December 2015, with no notice of reasons “and without just cause.” He asked for his job to be restored to him, as well as back pay and benefits.

The defendants removed the complaint to federal court in February 2016, and Trask moved to dismiss it three months later.

Trask and another former Madison officer also filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission in May 2016, saying they were victims of age discrimination when Madison police operations were transitioned to the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office. Sandy represented Trask in that claim. He said that case was dismissed without an investigation, which cleared the way for Trask to file an age discrimination complaint against the town that is currently pending in Somerset County Superior Court.

Lancaster said Thursday that his department hired all four of the Madison police officers originally, but two of them left to work for other police agencies, one retired, and one transferred to the rural division, which does not deal with Madison.

Sandy said Wednesday that Trask was not at Wednesday’s court hearing and has not been working in law enforcement. “He’s been a Registered Maine Guide for a long time and has been doing guiding,” Sandy said.

“The court was very well informed about the case, very attentive, no doubt about that,” he added. “It was an interesting argument, and we will await the decision of the court with great interest.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: