By MARK TOOR | Posted: Monday, April 2, 2012 5:00 pm

A State Supreme Court judge told Westchester County last week that it had to pay salaries and medical benefits to injured Correction Officers without requiring them to prove they were disabled by their injuries.

The county had argued that the arbitrators’ awards in favor of the officers should be overturned because they did not say whether the officers had been disabled. It contended that the language of the law required that to collect salary and benefits under state law 207-c, an officer had to suffer not just an injury, but a disabling injury.

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‘A Novel Interpretation’

“This court disagrees with [the county’s] interpretation of the language,” Justice Sam D. Walker wrote in his March 27 decision. He said the county has “created a novel interpretation of both 207-c and the [contract] that is unsupported by judicial precedent.”

The cases involved three officers. Kali Nelson was injured when she was struck in the neck and back by objects thrown by unruly inmates. Vaughn Palmer developed back pain when he reached into a water panel to turn off running water in a cell. Jacques Kelly injured his back while helping other officers detain an unruly inmate.

“This was an attack on job-injury benefits that are statutorily and contractually provided to officers who are injured in the performance of their duties,” said Alonzo West, president of WCOBA. “The department had granting hundreds of 207-c claims without requiring the demonstration of a particular level of disability. Then all of a sudden, they decided to inject a new criteria and blatantly ignored a number of arbitration awards granting correction officers 207-c benefits. It is unfortunate that the County of Westchester thinks it can just ignore the collective-bargaining agreement, ignore arbitration awards and waste taxpayers’ money by engaging in baseless legal battles.”

The law firm that represented the Westchester Correction Officers Benevolent Association, Koehler and Isaacs, said it was expecting a similar ruling in another case before Justice Walker that also involves 207-c benefits.

“For some reason the Department of Correction likes to think the parties’ collective-bargaining agreement is just a suggestion,” said Cynthia Devasia, a Koehler and Isaacs attorney. “Time and time again, however, the courts and arbitrators have held otherwise. These are collectively-bargained rights and they cannot be trampled with.”