The 2nd District Court of Appeal Wednesday rejected Orange County’s argument that the 2001 granting of a retroactive pension benefit to sheriff’s deputies both violated the California constitution and amounted to an illegal gift of public funds.
The 3-0 ruling of the appellate judges came just one week after arguments were heard in a Los Angeles courtroom. It is now up to the county Board of Supervisors to decide whether to take the case to the state Supreme Court.
“We hope the Orange County Board of Supervisors now come to their senses and realize what we, and their attorneys, told them four years ago — they are wrong on the facts and wrong on the law on this one, said Wayne Quint, President of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs in a news release.
The court also awarded the deputies union their costs for the appeal. All told, the suit, which was first filed in 2008, has cost county taxpayers $2.3 million, according to the union.
Supervisor John Moorlach, the driving force behind the case, took the defeat in stride, saying that it has been assumed all along that the case would go to the Supreme Court.
“I think we will get better scholarship at the Supreme Court level,” said Moorlach early Wednesday afternoon. Moorlach, when reached, said he had not had a chance to read the appellate ruling.
The county contends that the 3 percent-at-50 pension enhancement given to deputies violated constitutional provisions on how much debt a county can take on and was essentially and illegal gift to deputies.
The enhancement gives deputies who retire at age 50 or later 3 percent of their final year’s pay times the number of years they worked. Previously it was 2 percent.
The county has estimated that a victory in the case would save taxpayers $187 million in pension payouts.
— DAVID WASHBURN