The Connecticut Supreme Court was asked Thursday to decide whether state police lieutenants and captains should be allowed to unionize.

The oral arguments, which included several questions from the justices regarding how the decision would affect the hierarchy of the state police, lasted about an hour.

Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s administration has refused to recognize 42 police lieutenants and captains as a bargaining group since the state Labor Board certified their vote to form a union in July 2006.

In 2007 Attorney General Richard Blumenthal refused to represent Rell’s administration in fighting the Labor Board’s decision in court.

“I announced that I would not represent the State of Connecticut in this appeal as I believe opposition to the unionization of police lieutenants and captains is wrong as a matter of policy,” Blumenthal wrote in a letter to the president of CSEA/SEIU Local 2001.

Rell’s administration decide to continue to fight the Labor Board’s decision and hired the law firm of Kainen, Escalera, and McHale to continue to represent the state in the appeal. Rell’s budget office said Thursday that so far it has paid the firm $110,000 for its services.

In court Thursday lawyers for the state argued that the lieutenants and captains are managers and as such should not be able to unionize. But lawyers for the Labor Board and the union argued that the lieutenants and captains report to an unclassified group of colonels and majors.

Diana Garfield of Kainen, Escalera, and McHale argued that allowing the lieutenants and captains to unionize would in effect leave just two political appointments at the top of the hierarchy to represent the state’s interests. But Karen Buskin, who represented the Labor Board, argued that the job duties of the lieutenants and captains don’t meet two of the four criteria exempting them from a union.

Robert Krzys, CSEA/SEIU Local 2001’s lawyers argued that only one of the four criteria has been met. He said they made it clear that lieutenants and captains do not have the final say about what policies are implemented.

“We made clear that there is no ‘conflict of interest’ or ‘unworkable situation’ in the Department of Public Safety if its commissioned officers are represented by a union,” he said.  

Connecticut State Police Commissioned Officers Association Acting President Edward Gould says the drive to form a union started partly because some lower-ranking sergeants made almost as much money as the lieutenants, without the lieutenants’ added responsibilities.

“The reality is that the Administration’s actions have discouraged others from seeking leadership positions, and that has left key command positions vacant,” Gould said. 

The Supreme Court’s decision in the case is expected before the end of the current legislative session in May.