Hudson told to explain ruling in transit case

May. 10, 2013 @ 06:03 PM

A N.C. Court of Appeals panel has ordered Durham Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson to explain why he dismissed a lawsuit against the city last year filed by its one-time transit boss.

Hudson erred in his handling of former Transit Administrator Steve Mancuso’s case by failing to outline his reasons for denying Mancuso’s request for binding arbitration with the city, the unanimous ruling said.

The Durham jurist signed a dismissal order that was “devoid of findings of fact,” leaving the appeals court unable to delve into the case, Judge Sanford Steelman said in an opinion joined by Judges Donna Stroud and Rick Elmore.

Steelman and his colleagues directed Hudson to issue a new order that considers whether Mancuso and his former bosses had a valid agreement to arbitrate, and whether any such agreement covered the fallout from Mancuso’s ouster.

They further instructed Hudson to pay heed to a 2005 Court of Appeals ruling that said out-of-court settlements involving city and county governments aren’t valid unless they comply with state budgeting laws.

Mancuso was laid off in October 2011 after 14 years as the de-facto head of the Durham Area Transit Authority.

He lost his job because the city in 2010 opted to have a regional agency, Triangle Transit, operate the bus system for it.

City officials loaned Mancuso to Triangle Transit for about a year to smooth the transition. But after Triangle Transit was confident of its grip on the reins, its leaders saw no reason to keep him on.

The city didn’t have another transit job for Mancuso, as the only public transit it provides is the DATA bus system and an affiliated van service for the disabled.

Mancuso’s lawyer, Caitlyn Thomson, argued last year that the former executive was entitled to the same federal labor-law protections as DATA’s unionized drivers and mechanics.

Those protections should have entitled Mancuso, previously the holder of a $92,274-a-year job, to a large severance package or an arbitration proceeding.

Thomson and co-counsel Lynn Fontana also contend the city’s lawyers reneged on a settlement offer that would have submitted the dispute to arbitration.

The city’s lawyers, led by Senior Assistant City Attorney Don O’Toole, last July told Hudson that Mancuso was a city employee throughout his service and never qualified for the same labor-law protections as the drivers and mechanics.

DATA’s line employees are unionized because the bus system once belonged to Duke Power, a private-sector company. And even after the city took over, the drivers and mechanics never actually joined the city payroll.

They worked instead for a privately managed shell corporation, an arrangement that reconciled federal-law guarantees of their collective bargaining rights with the city’s inability, under state law, to negotiate with unions.

Mancuso was the city’s point man in dealings with the corporation.

Steelman said Hudson, not the Court of Appeals, has to make the first call on whether state or federal law controls the issue.

The three judges on the Court of Appeals panel that heard the matter are Republicans.

Judges at the trial level like Hudson usually farm out the drafting of their written orders to the winning side in a case. But in signing the winning side’s draft, the judge takes responsibility for its contents.