A 3-2 vote by Fresno County supervisors means the county will actually pay lawyers more money to defend an accused criminal than to prosecute one.
Action News talked to several prosecutors and they said they were willing to accept sizeable pay cuts, but their biggest issue with the new contract is the timing.
Their current contract doesn't expire until February, and this may be the first time the county has ever unilaterally imposed a contract on a union before the old contract expired.
In a courtroom, prosecutors always get the last word during a trial. But in contract negotiations with Fresno County, they feel they didn't even get a word in edgewise.
"We were blindsided by some of the actions that took place by the county negotiators," said prosecutor Chris Walsh.
Those negotiators convinced three of the five county supervisors to impose a new contract on prosecutors -- forcing a 9% pay cut, a reduction in pension benefits for new employees, and a loss of civil service protection.
Negotiators told the board they were at an impasse because prosecutors refused to come to the table. But the attorneys gave a timeline and a series of e-mails showing when they agreed to negotiate, months before their contract expires.
"We never ever said in any of those e-mails we wouldn't come to the table at the assigned dates and times your negotiators agreed upon," said prosecutor Carl Monopoli.
Supervisors Susan Anderson and Henry Perea fought for the district attorneys. The 87 Fresno County prosecutors earn between $51,064 and $117,000, with an average near the high end at about $109,465.
"We have DAs that are some of the lowest paid in the state," said supervisor Anderson. "On top of that, our das have some of the highest caseloads in the state, if not the highest."
But the other three supervisors said the cuts are necessary as the county struggles to control its budget.
Supervisor Debbie Poochigian even blamed leaders from a different union for creating the budget mess with contract negotiations during better times.
"I applaud you for negotiating such a great deal," she said to representatives from SEIU. "But you knew at the time we couldn't afford it. And now we are where we are. We're closing jail floors. We're laying off people. We're reducing salaries."
Labor leaders say the county is hurrying to impose contracts on unions before a state law changes in January. At that point, they'd have to justify the new contracts to an investigative panel.