No End in Sight for Rush’s Case

In “No End in Sight for Rush’s Case“, Jonathan Hettinger, a reporter with The News-Gazette (Champaign-Urbana, Ill.) writes about a dispute involving a local police officer fired from his job for using excessive force.  The article is worth noticing among other things, because it does a balanced job of describing the arbitrator’s selection process and the arbitration hearing and provides helpful background about who arbitrators are.  Below are some illustrative quotes from the article.

On the selection process:

In Illinois, the first step after a grievance is filed by the Fraternal Order of Police is for both sides to select an arbitrator.

The union and the city will request a list of candidates certified by American Arbitration Association. That organization generates a random list of seven possibilities, and the two sides begin the “striking” process, similar to how attorneys rule out jurors before a trial.

Each side chooses to take arbitrators off the list — one at a time — until there is one name left. The last person standing is selected — unless none of the seven is accepted by both parties, at which time a new list of seven is generated.

Once both sides agree, the arbitrator is notified.

During the ruling-out process, the two sides can review decisions made by each arbitrator, which are published on the Illinois Labor Relations Board’s website. …

Illinois FOP spokesman David Blanchette said the search for an arbitrator in this case will be limited to six states — Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin — so as to help keep travel costs, split between the two sides, down.

Typically, arbitrators are chosen from out of state to minimize any potential conflicts of interest, Blanchette said.

On the background of arbitrators:

Most arbitrators are attorneys, though that’s not a prerequisite. Some, like LeRoy and fellow UI professors Matthew Finkin and Paul Lansing, work as arbitrators on the side. Others, like Olympia Fields-based Jonathan Rothstein, do this full-time.

Rothstein worked in labor relations for most of his career since graduating from George Washington University Law School in 1979 but became a full-time arbitrator in 2013.

In order to maintain neutrality, Rothstein said, arbitrators are not allowed to be an advocate for labor or management. They also can’t represent either side in litigation.

On the arbitration hearing:

About 95 percent of the time, the arbitrator chosen will accept the case. The first course of action is to set a date for a hearing, which is typically done three to six months out, Rothstein said.

The arbitrator will receive a five-words-or-less description of what the case is about, and that’s all until the first day of the hearing, Rothstein said. They don’t get to review any documents beforehand.

“You might know it’s a discipline case,” Rothstein said, “but that’s it.”

The hearing is similar to a trial, experts say. Both sides introduce exhibits, conduct opening statements, cross-examine witnesses and end with closing arguments.