COURTS

Judge orders state to pay attorney fees in drug test case

 

The judge said the state must pay nearly $200,000 in attorney fees to the the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 79, which filed suit last year.

News Service of Florida

Florida’s attempt to drug test employees will cost taxpayers $190,589.74 after a federal judge in Miami on Friday ordered the state to pay attorney fees in a case challenging an executive order issued by Gov. Rick Scott last year.

U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro ordered the payment to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 79, which filed suit in May 2011. The union is plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging Scott’s ability to randomly drug tests workers in agencies his office oversees.

But Ungaro on Friday denied legal payments of $17,455 to the ACLU, which represents AFSCME in the case, saying the civil rights group was not a prevailing party and therefore was not entitled to reimbursement by the state.

In April, Ungaro ruled that Scott’s attempt to require random drug testing for tens of thousands of state workers is unconstitutional, saying Scott did not show a "compelling need" for the controversial plan.

A month later, Scott appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Ungaro ruled that requiring drug tests violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects against unreasonable searches.

Scott issued the executive order last year to require drug testing at agencies under his control, though the plan was placed on hold because of the legal challenge, except for some workers at the Department of Corrections. Ungaro’s ruling said the Scott-controlled agencies include about 85,000 employees, or 77 percent of the state workforce.

Despite the legal uncertainty, lawmakers and Scott this year approved a new bill that would allow drug testing of employees – though not require it.

That measure (HB 1205), which lets agencies conduct random testing every three months, is also being challenged in federal court.

Read more Political Currents stories from the Miami Herald

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