Drug-testing fight goes to high court - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Drug-testing fight goes to high court

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Posted: Wednesday, August 25, 2004 10:32 am | Updated: 6:20 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

A coalition of cities and groups has submitted petitions to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that Mesa’s policy requiring random drug testing for firefighters is constitutional.

Mesa is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that prohibits random, unannounced drug testing in the city’s fire department.

The city won’t know until September or early October whether the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case, said City Attorney Debbie Spinner.

More than a dozen entities have filed four amicus briefs in support of Mesa’s appeal. They include the International Municipal Lawyers Association, the National League of Cities, the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace, the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, two fire districts in Pima County, Phoenix, and six other Arizona cities. Amicus curiae, or a "friend of the court," is someone who is not a party in a legal case who provides information to the court on legal issues.

The cities argue that the Arizona Supreme Court decision will have an enormous impact on their own drug testing policies. It would restrict the ability to ensure the fitness of firefighters as protectors of public welfare, and place the public at great risk of harm, according to the cities’ brief.

The Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace declared if the Arizona Supreme Court decision stands, it could affect private sector drug testing policies, "and jeopardize the safety and health of millions of Americans," according to another brief.

The case stems from a 2001 lawsuit by Craig Petersen, a captain in the Mesa Fire Department. Petersen, 49, claimed the department’s new substance abuse policy violated his privacy rights. He has been with the department for 28 years.

Petersen said Tuesday the entities filing the briefs are self-motivated because they don’t want to give up their policies.

"I felt it was wrong from the get-go," Petersen said. "They shouldn’t test us for anything unless they have probable cause."

A trial judge ruled that random drug tests would violate Petersen’s privacy rights under the state constitution. The Arizona Court of Appeals reversed the ruling in February 2003. On Jan. 27, the state Supreme Court sided with Petersen, ruling the Fourth Amendment prohibits the random tests.

Mesa can still test for drugs before hiring an employee, when an employee has an accident, and when there is reasonable suspicion of drug use.

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