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Appeals panel hears Nassau cops wage freeze case

A lawyer for the Nassau County police union faced mostly skeptical questions Monday from an appeals court panel about a federal judge's decision in April blocking a wage freeze ordered by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority.

Judges Susan Carney and Edward Korman, a district judge sitting by designation on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, both peppered Nassau PBA lawyer Alan Klinger with questions about why Central Islip U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler didn't leave the issue to a state court.

"This is a very important matter of state law that state courts should address in the first instance, isn't it?" Carney asked at one point. The third member of the panel, Judge Rosemary Pooler, did not attend the argument.

The unions sued in federal court in 2011, arguing that a wage freeze adopted by NIFA to deal with Nassau's financial crisis violated federal constitutional protection on the sanctity of contracts. Wexler invalidated the freeze in February, saying it exceeded the board's authority under the state statute that created it. He stayed his ruling pending appeal.

NIFA took control of the county's finances and imposed the wage freeze in 2011 after calculating that Nassau was running a $176 million deficit. In March, the NIFA board extended the wage freeze through March 2014.

In appealing Wexler's ruling, lawyers for NIFA and the county, which say more than $230 million in taxpayer savings may be at stake, argued that the judge misinterpreted the statute, and should have left it to a state court if he wasn't going to find a constitutional violation.

After the arguments, PBA president James Carver said that judges' questions can be misleading. "Contracts should be honored," he said. "We feel we should prevail."

The judges gave no timetable for their ruling.

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