PHOENIX - Contracts that allow public employees to work on union activities while being paid by the government are illegal, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge has ruled.

Judge Katherine Cooper barred Phoenix from paying the salaries of Phoenix Law Enforcement Association members who are not doing work for the city. In her ruling filed Tuesday, Cooper said the provision, part of a contract between the union and the city, violates a constitutional provision forbidding the use of public funds for gifts.

Cooper acknowledged the overall contract does serve some public purpose. But she said the release-time provision does not.

"It diverts resources away from the mission of the Phoenix Police Department, which is the safety of the community," she wrote. "It applies those resources to the interests of a single group of city employees."

Cooper's ruling sets no legal precedent beyond this specific case.

Attorney Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute, which brought the lawsuit, said there was testimony during the trial that most other cities have some similar provisions, and not only for police unions.

Tucson City Attorney Mike Rankin, however, said Tucson's contracts are more restrictive about what union representatives can do on city time.

Bolick said future lawsuits are up in the air, as the organization is researching and looking for legislative solutions to the issue.