By Sunantha Mendoza-Quibilan/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES – The trial of the 10 Filipino nurses who are facing criminal charges for misdemeanor conspiracy and child endangerment was postponed on Friday after an appeals court said it will consider a request submitted by the defense to drop the charges. The trial, which has been postponed several times, was scheduled to begin on April 28.
“This means that they are taking a serious look at what we are saying.” Said defense attorney James Druker, who filed the motion claiming that federal labor laws, and not criminal laws, have jurisdiction in the case.
The nurses, who had been recruited from the Philippines to address the problem of staffing shortage in the US, resigned from their jobs on April 7, 2006 at Avalon Gardens in Smithtown, Long Island, where they were in charge of looking after terminally ill children. All claimed to have been subjected to demeaning and unfair working conditions.
According to the prosecutors, the 10 nurses’ resignation without notice jeopardized the lives of their patients. Although none of these patients suffered ill effects, the allegation states that the nurses were aware that the walk out would make it difficult to find replacements.
Lawyers for the 10 nurses, however, claim that one of the nurses remained on duty on for an additional four hours past her shift on the night of the resignation to make sure the patients would be given proper attention and care.
If convicted, the nurses could serve up to a year in jail on each of 13 counts, have their nursing licenses revoked and face deportation. Their attorney, who advised them to carry out the mass resignation, is also being prosecuted.
According to Robert Clifford, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, the court granted the reprieve because it has “determined there is insufficient time to issue a ruling” with regard the defense’s motion within the two weeks the trial was supposed to begin.
The nurses have the support of several Filipino organizations in the U.S., as well as the American Nurses Association and the New York and California Nurses Associations who are concerned that the case could set a bad precedent on the prosecution of nurses who quit their jobs. In addition to these organizations, Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union – the largest health care workers’ local in the nation – earlier this week declared their support for the nurses.