March 8th, 2011, 8:02 am
Posted by Kimberly Edds, Staff Writer
The County of Orange took the next step in its fight to overturn the county’s generous “3 percent at 50″ pension plan for sheriff’s deputies, filing its petition with the California Supreme Court.
The case is in its third year of litigation. A county court victory could save as much as $500 million. A loss could mean the county will have to pay their $2 million-plus legal bill along with the legal bills for the deputies’ union.
It’s up to the state Supreme Court whether to accept the petition. The Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs has 20 days to file a response.
Justices for the Second Appellate District in Los Angeles sided with the sheriff’s union, agreeing the pension plan’s benefits do not violate the state constitution. The decision leaves the county holding the bill for hundreds of millions of dollars in long-term retirement debt.
“The County emphasizes its current difficult financial situation and the ‘ruinous fiscal irresponsibility’ of the prior board of supervisors,” read the 29-page appellate opinion issued Jan. 26.
“Imprudence, however, is not unconstitutional.”The Board of Supervisors voted 4 to 1 last month to appeal the ruling. Supervisor Janet Nguyen was the lone dissenting vote.
“I think its collective bargaining abuse when you grant retroactive benefits,” said Vice Chair John Moorlach, who has led the charge to sue the deputies union. “It makes the city of Bell scandal pale in comparison.”
The Watchdog has calls into AOCDS president Wayne Quint and we’ll update you when we hear back.
The county has already spent $2.26 million as of July 2010 pursuing the lawsuit, according to documents provided in response to a California Public Records Act request.
The County of Orange sued the association in 2008, trying to pull back the so-called “3 percent at 50″ benefit, which allows deputies who have worked for 30 years to retire at age 50 with 90 percent of their salaries. County supervisors signed off on the benefit in 2001, despite warnings that the good economic times would not last forever.
Seven years later, the Board of Supervisors decided granting retroactive benefits violated state law, because retiring public safety employees were paid extra compensation for work they had already performed. The county also argues it was illegal, because it agreed to spend the money without voter approval.
The county sued. It was Mario Mainero, formerly Moorlach’s chief of staff, who led the war cry for the county to file the suit against the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs.
Mainero, who left the county in May to teach at Chapman Law School, has been hired back by the county to continue its fight against the deputies’ lucrative pension benefits. Chief Executive Officer Tom Mauk hired Mainero in December for $75 an hour.
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