In Oregon’s history, it is difficult to imagine a more outrageous example of unfairness than the situation that has existed since 1984 whenever PERS members go to court to challenge modifications to their retirement benefits. The rules under which those lawsuit are decided are far different than the way other lawsuits are decided in Oregon. The difference between lawsuits generally and lawsuits by PERS members is the people who participate in those lawsuits.
The participants in non-PERS lawsuits typically include:
- A party who is asking the court to do something. This party is represented by an attorney who does not have a conflict of interest with his or her client’s interest. This allows the attorney to fully represent the interest of the client.
- The party who is opposing the action requested by the first party. This party is also represented by an attorney who does not have an interest that conflicts with the client’s interest.
- A judge who does not have a personal interest in the case that conflicts with the interests of any of the parties.
This system insures that each party is treated fairly. It is our standard system of justice and it is based on principles of law that have been accepted by civilized societies for centuries.
But PERS lawsuits are decided under a substantially different system of justice. That system, which can be referred to as PERS Justice, involves the following participants:
- PERS members who are asking the court to invalidate reductions to their PERS benefits. These PERS members are represented by attorneys who do not have an interest in the case that conflicts with the interest of their clients. This part of PERS Justice is the same as standard justice, but this is where the similarities to standard justice end.
- The State of Oregon, who represents the people of Oregon, and is opposing the action brought by the PERS members. But in the PERS Justice system the state is represented by attorneys who are PERS members. Those attorneys have a substantial, financial interest that directly conflicts with the interest of their client, the State of Oregon and the people represented by the State of Oregon.
- Under rulings by the Oregon Supreme Court, all PERS cases must be decided by judges who are PERS members, even when their own PERS benefits will be affected by the decision they make in the case. As a result, the judges in the PERS Justice system also have a substantial, financial interest in the case that directly conflicts with the interest of the State of Oregon and the people represented by the State of Oregon. Judges who are PERS members cannot be impartial in PERS cases.
In the PERS Justice system, the deck is stacked 100% in favor of the PERS members. They not only have their attorneys on their side but the attorneys for the State and the judge have the same financial interest in the outcome of the case as the PERS members do. If the State of Oregon wins, the PERS members, the attorneys for the State and the judge will all lose money. That is not fair. It violates every notion of fairness that has ever existed. Yet, that is the way things are done in Oregon’s PERS Justice system.
Through my lawsuit, Daniel C. Re v. Public Employee Retirement System, I am fighting to restore fundamental fairness to the PERS Justice system, just like it exists in the standard justice system. The PERS Justice system was not always like it is today and I won’t stop until I have accomplished that objective.