SANTA ANA — An attorney for pink-slipped Costa Mesa employees urged a three-judge panel Wednesday to keep in place a court-ordered injunction that prevents the city from starting to implement a plan to outsource some workers' jobs.

But attorneys for the city argued in the Court of Appeal that city hall is well within its rights to find less expensive ways to serve residents.

"If a city has the power to provide a service, it has the power to contract it," argued Richard J. Grabowski, a Jones Day law firm attorney representing the city. "That is implicit. Once the power exists, the power to contract it exists."

Like a school district, which hands out pink slips at the end of the year when a budget falls short, Grabowski said the city's layoff notices weren't necessarily an indication that the work force would be slashed.

But Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. attorney Jonathan Yank told the judges Costa Mesa employees faced an "imminent, apparent harm" when they received the layoff notices in March 2011.

"The reality is that the layoff letters gave a specific date," he said.

More than once, Associate Justice William W. Bedsworth suggested that soon enough whether or not the city could outsource services would be resolved at a trial, making a decision from the appellate court unnecessary.

"It doesn't sound like the city of Costa Mesa is very concerned with the timing if they're continuing the trial," Bedsworth said of the city moving the trial date.

Timing was everything to the city, Grabowski said, and the city chose to move the date of the trial because of the appellate court's decision.

"For efficiency and expediation (sic) we are here," Grabowski said.

The urgency, Yank said, is non-existent.

"The city cannot possibly keep a straight face," claiming that the outsourcing can't wait until a trial, Yank said.

At one point in the hearing, Bedsworth said, "let's not get into the politics of this" after Grabowski told the panel the injunction tied the city's hands in an effort to save money.

If the panel consisting of Bedsworth and associate justices Eileen C. Moore and Richard M. Aronson sides with the city, outsourcing can begin before the trial.


FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier version misspelled Richard Aronson's last name.

In May of last year, the employees association filed a lawsuit against the city in response to its plan to lay off city workers and contract work out to private companies and other cities. The latest date in the case is set for July 24, a case management conference.

The city and employees will have to wait anywhere between one week and two months for the judges' opinion.

lauren.williams@latimes.com

Twitter: @lawilliams30