Pay It Back: County Calls Free Time Off in DA's Office "Secret Action"

Santa Clara County demands attorneys receiving extra time off pay it back. It comes after NBC Bay Area exposed altered time sheets in April.

By Jenna Susko and Julie Putnam
|  Wednesday, Jul 24, 2013  |  Updated 4:58 PM PDT
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Santa Clara County demands attorneys receiving extra time off pay it back. It comes after NBC Bay Area exposed altered time sheets in April. Jenna Susko reports.

Santa Clara County demands attorneys receiving extra time off pay it back. It comes after NBC Bay Area exposed altered time sheets in April. Jenna Susko reports.

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The Santa Clara County district attorney's free vacation policy is being undone: the county says employees who received extra time off, must pay it back, calling it a "secret action" by District Attorney Jeff Rosen that has "raised a number of concerns."

In a letter Thursday morning to the Government Attorneys Association, the union representing county attorneys, Deputy County Executive Luke Leung demanded the attorneys repay the county for "certain compensation received inappropriately."

The county recommended they do this by a corresponding reduction in time from their vacation banks.

To view the county's letter, click here.

It comes two months after the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit exposed Rosen giving extra time off in the form of administrative leave to lead attorneys who lost a 5 percent bonus in the wake of county budget cuts, allowing employees to bank vacation and sick time which they could cash out later.

To view the original investigation, click here.

Since then, the attorney general has initiated a civil investigation and the county has capped the administrative leave hours the district attorney may dole out to 40 hours per employee per year.

Leung writes, "The District Attorney intended that this compensation would accomplish a workaround regarding an important negotiated concession" in the current contract, referring to the 5 percent bonus cut.

"It certainly wasn't the intent of the contract," County Executive Jeff Smith told NBC Bay Area in an interview Thursday. "So I don't think it was a wise step to take."

Smith says the free time off policy circumvented the negotiated cuts and should be returned.

"Everybody knew the five percent was going to be taken away but no one envisioned it would be replaced with something else," Smith said.

"Personally, I would hope that the district attorney would join the county with the effort to ask the union to return the administrative time."

Rosen responded to the letter today in a written statement, saying in part:

"Today the Deputy County Executive sent an inaccurate and misleading letter...The County Executive and I read and interpret the GAA Labor Contract differently....I do not appreciate attempts by the County Executive to bully my hardworking prosecutors."

To read the district attorney's complete statement, click here.

"At this point what I am really hoping is that what the district attorney did doesn't reflect poorly on my members who received this administrative leave," GAA President Max Zarzana told the Investigative Unit.

"It's very frustrating to me to see members, hardworking lawyers in the district attorney's office brought into the public eye under such circumstance for doing nothing more than their job."

Zarzana said he's not surprised by the letter and that several members have already asked how to reimburse the county.

GAA also issued a full statement.

Leung's letter also says that the county assumes the lead attorneys accepted the free time off "inadvertently," even though no investigation has been conducted to prove this assertion, but that a reimbursement "would be a satisfactory end to this issue."

Do you have a tip for the Investigative Unit?

Email us: TheUnit@nbcbayarea.com

Tweet us: @jennasusko @putnamproducer

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