California Supreme Court Rejects County’s Pension Lawsuit

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Wednesday, April 13, 2010 |

California’s Supreme Court today unanimously denied county officials’ appeal on a controversial pension case that sought to eliminate retroactive pension increases adopted for deputy sheriffs nearly a decade ago.

The defeat comes as a blow to the county board of supervisors and specifically to Supervisor John Moorlach, who began the effort just after his 2006 election with a solo press conference announcing the unique legal theory.

County officials had argued that the increase – worth about $187 million – violated the state constitution and constituted a gift of public funds.

Courts that reviewed the case consistently decided that pension liabilities were different than outright debt.

“It’s just amazing,” said Moorlach just after hearing the decision.”They owed it to the citizens of California to bring some clarity,” Moorlach added saying he expected at least a written opinion answering the question: “Why does a pension benefit enhancement become a loophole?”

Wayne Quint, president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, heralded the unanimous decision reiterating what he’s been saying for years.

Quint criticized county supervisors saying they’ve wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on a “half-cocked” legal theory from Moorlach’s former chief of staff Mario Mainero, who now teaches law at Chapman University.

Moorlach replied by noting, “regardless of what Quint says, this is unconstitutional and I will always believe that.”

Quint also said county supervisors should have concentrated more on negotiating than just a legal confrontation.

Moorlach agreed now that the case was done, the action would indeed move back toward the negotiating room. And without the case looming in the background, he said the deputies should expect an aggressive tact from the county.

Quint stressed that his union would “aggressively” seek to have is own legal fees reimbursed by the county, given that the county’s legal arguments were rejected outright by three separate courts in quick order.

Estimates are that the legal fees could likely cost taxpayers more than $5 million, if a court agrees with Quint.

Although the county’s Lincoln Club was also a prominent backer of the lawsuit, many Republican attorneys have privately voiced doubts about the legal theory.

Quint said Moorlach and County CEO Tom Mauk owe the people of Orange County an apology.

Mauk did not return a call seeking comment.

“Republican’s are always talking about tort reform,” Quint said adding, “Well here’s the worst example, courtesy of Supervisor John Moorlach.”

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