High Court rules in favor of officers

LIHUE — An arbitrator did not exceed his authority when he awarded promotions to three Kauai Police Department officers in 2009, according to a state Supreme Court ruling issued Monday.

The decision caps a four-year-old case that has pit the County of Kauai and Kauai Police Department against the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, the body that represents unionized county police employees.

The crux of the case has been whether County of Kauai officials or a collective bargaining arbitrator overstepped their authority in discussions about the promotion of three KPD officers.

Shelly Rodrigues, James Rodriguez and Shane Sokei were not promoted to sergeant during interviews with then-acting police chief Clayton Arinaga after they passed a written test for the position.

SHOPO officials later appealed the decision, charging that the promotion process was “subjective, arbitrary and capricious,” heavily dependent on an inconsistent oral interview exam and not based on merit, ability, or fair standards, according to court documents. They requested that the trio be promoted and have all salary and other benefits, rights and privileges restored retroactively.

Arbitrator Larry Cundiff agreed with SHOPO’s appeal. He awarded the officers promotions to sergeant positions, back pay, and “any additional rights, benefits and privileges they would have been entitled to had they been promoted.”

The high court decision rules that Cundiff was within his right to do so.

County officials couldn’t be reached for comment late Monday.

After Cundiff promoted the officers, county officials filed a motion with the state appellate court to declare the arbitration findings moot, arguing that Cundiff “promoted the three officers based on his own criteria, exceeded his authority as arbitrator, and the remedial promotion violated public policy by encroaching on management’s right to promote.”

The appellate court in 2009 partially granted and denied the county’s request by confirming that “the grievances were properly before the arbitrator and within his jurisdiction and authority, and remanded for rehearing on the issue of remedy.”

Cundiff, however, re-issued his original decision, ordering that back pay and benefits be applied retroactively for the three officers.

The state appellate court later confirmed Cundiff’s findings and decisions except for the promotional remedies, which they ruled, “were in excess of the arbitrator’s authority under the collective bargaining agreement.”

SHOPO officials in 2010 later issued an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The case was argued in front of the high court on Kauai in April.

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