The following article from the Associated Press was published in the Bend Bulletin on December 6, 2011. It is also in the Oregonian on-line edition at:
Bend lawyer files appeal in PERS lawsuit
By Jonathan J. Cooper / The Associated Press
Published: December 06. 2011 4:00AM PST
SALEM — A Bend attorney has filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate two Oregon Supreme Court decisions that have limited efforts to cut pension benefits for public employees.
Daniel Re argues in a brief filed last week in the state Court of Appeals that the judges who decided the cases had a conflict of interest because they would eventually receive pensions from the Public Employee Retirement System.
One decision overturned a 1994 ballot measure that limited public pension benefits. The other said the state can’t roll back benefits already promised to retirees. The decisions have limited the options available to state lawmakers who want to spend less on retirement benefits for public employees at a time when tax revenue is considerably constrained.
“It’s really in the benefit of everyone to ensure that we’re treated fairly and that our right primarily to independent judges is maintained,” Re said.
In deciding the earlier cases, the Supreme Court noted that the judges could have a financial interest in their decision but found that a “rule of necessity” allowed them to handle the case. No impartial panel of jurists could be seated because state law requires nearly all Oregon judges to be part of PERS, the court found.
Re’s legal challenge argues that the court was wrong because judges appointed at age 70 or older are not required to join PERS. The Supreme Court could have appointed older lawyers as temporary judges to a trial court, and then appointed them as temporary Supreme Court justices for the purposes of handling a PERS case, he argues.
Furthermore, the state and U.S. constitutions guarantee a right to a fair hearing from an impartial judge, he argues.
Joe O’Leary, policy director for the Public Employees Retirement System, said PERS will review the lawsuit and “our lawyers will respond to it within the schedule set by the Court of Appeals.”
Re said he is primarily targeting Oregon State Police Officers’ Association v. State of Oregon, a 1996 case that threw out Measure 8, which was pushed by initiative guru Bill Sizemore and past by a narrow margin. The measure would have required public employees to contribute 6 percent of their salary to their retirement plan, prohibited a guaranteed rate of return for pensions and made it illegal for PERS to allow beneficiaries to boost their pensions with unused sick time.
Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2011