Brown joins fight over Orange County deputies' pensions

Legal News Line Sep. 2, 2008, 2:56pm

Jerry Brown (D)

SANTA ANA, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-Attorney General Jerry Brown will seek permission from a judge to file a legal brief that would protect an Orange County deputy sheriffs' pension plan from attempts to alter it by the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

Brown's office said Tuesday the attorney general will file an amicus brief in opposition to the Board of Supervisors' lawsuit against the California Public Employees Retirement System that challenges a 2001 collective bargaining agreement with the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs.

"The deputy sheriffs put their lives on the line for us, and they deserve fair compensation for their hard work serving and protecting the people of Orange County," said Brown, a Democrat.

Under the current bargaining agreement, the deputies receive a pension plan known as "3 percent at 50." Since its inception, the plan has been adopted by most public safety departments in the state.

"The county's lawsuit," Brown said, "poses a significant threat to all public employees in California, including local police and other law enforcement officers... If the county's lawsuit is successful it will discourage young men and women from choosing a career in law enforcement and will hurt the families who relied on the promises of the Orange County Board of Supervisors."

The Board of Supervisors brought the lawsuit in the hopes of invalidating the agreement on the basis that the programmed increases violates the state constitution because it includes a retroactive benefit, according to Supervisor John Moorlach, who issued a written report on the lawsuit in July 2007.

"As an example," Moorlach's report states, "a 50-year-old sheriff, who on June 2, 2002, had worked for 25 years, had earned 50 percent of his or her final year's compensation as an annual pension. On June 28, 2002, that same deputy was given an additional 1 percent per year for the past 25 years, and now had a 75 percent of the final year's compensation as an annual pension, one-third of which was given to them without working for it or paying for it."

According to Moorlach, the change in compensation could lead between $100 and $300 million unfunded in the pension.

"Retroactive benefits," Moorlach argued, "are not earned by working-they were 'given' to the employees-and thus they were never vested. If they are not vested, they are not constitutionally guaranteed."

But Wayne Quint, president of the deputy association, said the case could jeopardize the benefits of thousands of state and local public employees if all retroactive benefits are found to be unconstitutional.

The association has hired private legal counsel. The costs of the case could exceed $1.3 million, Quint said.

Brown said the lawsuit breaks a promise between the Supervisors and their deputies.

"County supervisors are not entitled to suddenly change their minds and decide to take away important pension benefits that the deputies bargained for in good faith," Brown said.

He added that the deputies "deserve far better treatment from the Board of Supervisors. Their families are counting on it."

Orange County made national news when the affluent Southern California jurisdiction filed for bankruptcy in 1994.

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