MARTINEZ, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-California's leading taxpayers' rights group says the public scored a major legal victory this week when a judge ruled that a county's pension records are not entirely confidential.

The judge ruled that the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, a public pension watchdog group, are entitled to a list of names and total retirement benefits for all Contra Costa County employees receiving an annual pension of at least $100,000.

Retired Contra Costa County Deputy Sheriff Donna Irwin sued the county retirement board, claiming that releasing her pension amount was an invasion of privacy.

Attorneys for the taxpayers' group intervened in the case, arguing that unlike the IRA and 401k plans of private citizens, public employee defined benefit plans pay a guaranteed amount that are funded by taxpayers.

"The public interest in knowing how public money is spent, outweighs any embarrassment public employees might feel from the disclosure of their retirement benefits," said Tim Bittle, director of legal affairs for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

In his ruling Wednesday, Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Barry Baskin ordered the records released, saying a "transparent government is the cornerstone of our democracy."

In addition to the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, the Contra Costa Times, the Los Angeles Times and the California Newspaper Publishers Association also joined the lawsuit.

Baskin was appointed to the bench by former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in 2002. He currently serves as a civil fast track trial judge.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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