I have initiated legal action to prevent judges who are PERS members from deciding PERS cases. In do this, it is not my purpose to attack the judges but rather to protect their right to decide cases free of personal interest and to protect the right of the people to independent judges. The fact that the Oregon legislature deprived both the judges and the people of those rights is a serious problem. And it’s a problem that did not exist during the first forty years of PERS. It is a problem intentionally created by the legislature in 1984.
The judges had previously been in their own, independent retirement plan and did not have a PERS conflict. Legislators were first permitted to join PERS in 1971 and they spent the next twelve years doubling PERS benefits. By 1983, 84 of the 90 legislators were PERS members. Those PERS legislators evidently concluded that the best way to protect the new PERS benefits they had created was to make the judges join PERS. That way, if the people tried to eliminate those new PERS benefits the judges retirement benefits would be at stake and that might influence how the judges would decide the case.
The greatest protection that the people have against legislative impropriety is an independent judiciary. When the legislators made the judges join PERS in 1984, they took that safeguard away from us on PERS matters. I am not an enemy of the judges. I am a champion of their right to independence. On judicial independence in PERS cases, I am their only champion.
Like the person in the song written by Bennie Benjamin, Marcus Sol and Gloria Caldwell, “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good, oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”