Oregon Judges Paid To Join PERS

Prior to 1984 most Oregon judges were not members of the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System (PERS).  They had their own separate retirement plan, the Judges Retirement Fund.   Since the judges were not PERS members, they would not have a financial stake in the outcome of any PERS case they would be called upon to decide.

This all changed, however, in 1983 just eight years after the Oregon legislators allowed themselves to retroactively join PERS.  In 1983, the legislature passed a law that required all persons becoming judges after 1983 to be automatic PERS members as soon as they took office.  Persons who had been judges before 1984 were given a choice.  They could stay in the Judges Retirement Fund or they could join PERS.  If they joined PERS, however, they would have a conflict of interest anytime they heard a PERS case. 

To my knowledge, this conflict of interest issue was not raised by anyone involved in the decision to put the judges into PERS.  It was not raised by the legislators,  by the Oregon Commission on the Judiciary or by the judges.  In 1983, 84 of the 90 Oregon legislators were PERS members.  The Oregon Commission on the Judiciary, which recommended that the judges be put into PERS had 15 members, 5 of whom were PERS legislators and 4 who were judges.

Under the Judges Retirement Fund and under the new  PERS law for judges, the judges were required to make a contribution equal to  7% of their salary to their retirement account.  This contribution is higher than the 6% contribution non-judge PERS members are required to make. In order to entice the existing judges to join PERS, the legislators provided that the State of Oregon would pay the 7% employee contribution of every judge who joined PERS.  The judges who decided to stay in the Judges Retirement Fund, however, were still required to pay their own 7% contribution. 

As a result of this special provision, every judge who joined PERS received an immediate 7% increase in compensation.  The PERS judges also had a conflict of interest anytime a PERS case went to court and they had the greatest amount to lose if the people of Oregon tried to eliminate the ability of the State to pay employee PERS  contributions.  That is exactly what happened in 1994 when the people passed Ballot Measure 8.  The PERS judges took care of that change, however, in 1996, when the Oregon Supreme Court, by a 4 to 3 vote, held that Ballot Measure 8 was unconstitutional.

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About Dan Re

I am an attorney who has lived in Bend and practiced law since 1981. In educating myself about the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), I was shocked at how the PERS laws were changed by the legislature, once legislators were allowed to join PERS in 1971, 26 years after PERS was first created. Those changes personally benefitted the legislators who made them at the direct financial expense of the people they were elected to represent. That is wrong and I intend to change it. In 2009, I started a non-profit 501(c)(4) corporation, In RE The People, Inc., for the purpose of informing concerned citizens of what happened regarding PERS and other issues of social and civic importance. I then created this blog to further that objective.
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