January 19, 2011

OC and Sac public pension cases in court

By OC and Sac public pension cases in court

Author: Harold Johnson

Two important cases dealing with public pensions in California have reached critical stages in the litigation process. 

Case No. 1: This morning (Wednesday, Jan. 19), a panel of the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles will hear County of Orange v. Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs et. al.  At issue is a big retroactive hike in pension benefits that was awarded to favored county employees.   The lawsuit holds that this windfall violated Article XVI, Section 18 of the California Constitution, which bars local governments from incurring debt without voter approval, and Article XI, Section 10, which prohibits local governments from paying extra, after-the-fact, compensation for work already performed.  

Pacific Legal Foundation's brief, submitted along with the Fullerton Association of Concerned Taxpayers, focuses on the violation of the voter-approval requirement for debt.    In a footnote, we also target the one-sidedness of the pension-hike scheme — with employees reaping new benefits for no extra work, while taxpayers are saddled with new financial burdens for no additional services.  In a private sector context, we point out, a contract with such an extreme imbalance of burdens and benefits might be voided by California courts as "unconscionable." 

Case No. 2:  Briefing has now been completed at the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento County Employees' Retirement System v. The Superior Court of Sacramento County.  ?The retirement agency (SCERS) is fighting an effort by The Sacramento Bee and the First Amendment Coalition to secure the names of county pension recipients linked to the amounts they're receiving.   

As this video summarizes, PLF's brief — again submitted with the Fullerton Association of Concerned Taxpayers — argues that taxpayers, who are on the hook for the cost of public pensions, should have the right to know how their money is spent; that the Public Records Act codifies this right; and that the public interest in knowing how and where the money goes, outweighs any privacy interests involved.

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