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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Former L.A. fire captain can lose pension benefits following felony conviction but deserves hearing, court rules

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By John Breslin | Jul 6, 2018


LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) – A former Los Angeles fire captain convicted of running an illegal gambling operation could still lose part of his pension following a California appeals court ruling.

Tod Hipsher faces losing a chunk of his pension under changes signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2012, which including provisions that denied benefits to those convicted of job-related felonies. Under the law, convicted felons would lose benefits from the first time the offense happened.

The 2nd Appellate District of California, Division Four on June 19 largely upheld a lower court ruling that stated Hipsher's state constitutional right to retirement benefits were not violated by Los Angeles County's decision to cut them.

But the court did rule that he was denied due process and that he should be afforded a hearing by the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association. Hipsher, and others in a similar position, must receive a notice and hearing prior to any final decision.

This ruling by the 2nd Appellate District differed slightly from the lower court, which upheld the underlying law but ruled it was up to the county to provide that due process.

Hipsher argued that his vested rights under contract clauses of the constitution were violated, and that further the felony conviction was not connected to his job.

The more than 30-year veteran's latter argument was hugely undermined by court records, which state he did run the illegal gambling operation while on-duty.

Hipsher, who received one-year house arrest after pleading in federal court, was the target of an undercover sting operation.

According to the ruling, Hipsher met twice in the firehouse with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers pretending to be motorcycle gang members to discuss debt collections and counterfeit merchandise to resell.

In his plea agreement, Hipsher admitted to handling bets worth millions of dollars over the course of a dozen years. He sourced customers in California then routed the bets through a Costa Rica-headquartered company.

The issue at any hearing will center on whether Hipsher's felony offenses were job-related as laid out in the 2012 pension reform legislation.

He faces the loss of nearly 13 years of service credits and the slashing of nearly $100,000 in contributions.

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