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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Trial of Filipino nurses in the US postponed

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GARDEN CITY, N.Y. - The trial of Filipino nurses accused of endangering patients by quitting their jobs in a labor dispute was postponed on Friday when an appeals court said it will consider a defense request to drop the charges.

“This means they are taking a serious look at what we are saying," said James Druker, an attorney for the 10 Filipino nurses.

The nurses, recruited from the Philippines to help ease a staffing shortage in the US, are accused of misdemeanor conspiracy and child endangerment. If convicted, they could face up to a year in jail on each count, plus lose their nursing licenses.

Prosecutors say the nurses quit their jobs in April 2006 without notice, jeopardizing the lives of children at a Smithtown, Long Island nursing facility. Some of the children were terminally-ill and others were on ventilators and required constant monitoring.

None of the children suffered ill effects, and the nurses claim that all but one of them resigned while they were off duty. The nurse who was working the night of the mass resignations contends she stayed on the job four hours past the end of her shift in order to ensure the patients were cared for.

The trial, which has been postponed a number of times, had been scheduled to begin April 28.

Druker filed a motion claiming that federal labor laws—not state criminal statutes—would have jurisdiction in the case. In addition to the 10 nurses, the attorney also is being prosecuted for advising them to walk out.

Robert Clifford, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, said the court granted the stay because the trial was scheduled to begin in two weeks and “the court has determined there is insufficient time to issue a ruling."

The nurses are backed by several Filipino organizations in the US, as well as both the New York and California state nurses associations, who fear prosecuting nurses who quit their jobs could set a bad precedent.

Earlier this week, Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union—the largest health care workers' local in the nation—said it was supporting the nurses. - AP


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