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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Long Line of Pain

Gertrude Himmelfarb once titled a book "On Looking Into the Abyss". In it she ruminated about the culture wars and how they would play out in the future. Although I don't share any of Himmelfarb's views, nor those of her husband Irving Kristol and son William, I thought she represented the future as presciently as just about anyone else of her generation. Lately, I've been reading and partipating in discussions elsewhere and via email with PERS retirees who've begun to get very tired, irritated, and frustrated by the lack of any movement on any of the Court cases litigating all things related to the PERS Board's "do over" of the 1999 earnings crediting decision. Some people are antsy about the slowness with which PERS is moving; others are angry that the PERS Coalition doesn't show more aggressiveness in pursuing options that they believe will force PERS' hand. Others ruminate and argue over what exactly the Supreme Court meant by its reference to "fixed benefits" and "without errors" in its Strunk Decision. Others are indignant that PERS is acting like the Supreme Court never ruled and seems to be writing its own rulebook. Others (including me) point out the inherent conflict of interest that arises in some of the legal proceedings between the interests of active (or non-retired) PERS members and those who retired during the "window" or thereafter. Some adamantly cling to the quaint notion that "justice delayed is justice denied". I suppose this is all natural, especially when this melodrama has been played out in so many different courtrooms, in the legislature, and in the newspapers since early 2000. And I don't have an answer or advice to give. I can stare into the same abyss everyone else is viewing and all I see is another 2 or 3 years before all legal avenues are exhausted. The current process being used by PERS to implement what they're calling "Strunk/Eugene" remediation, was agreed to by lawyers (and presumably the client groups they represent) for ALL parties in September 2005 [note added 2/22 - it is significant to note that OPRI and plaintiff Sartain did NOT agree to the one touch, but OPRI's attorney was not present at the 9/2005 meeting, and his letter did not make it into the Board packet because of OPRI's indecisiveness about whether to seek legal input on this matter. I definitely stand corrected on this point.] PERS is moving at the pace it said it would move, perhaps a bit more quickly but not a lot faster. The calculations are turning out to be pretty much in accord with what I programmed into my calculator, unfortunately. The "one touch" approach seemed like a good idea back in 2005 when several of the current cases got launched. It still seemed like a good idea when Judge Kantor announced in both Arken and Kantor that he would make decisions relatively quickly. But that was nearly 6 months ago and most people have difficulty understanding that legal time and geological time are close cousins. In geological time, 2 million years is really fast, but humans can't grasp its speed. To lawyers, a year seems like an instant, but clients can't grasp that it is fast. I don't have any magic wand I can wave and make the judicial system move faster. I have no pull with the lawyers that would suddenly make them "see the light" and move for some sort of action that would (a) stop PERS from continuing what it is doing and (b) sequester funds currently being withheld from retirees into a safe account that will be paid out with interest if the retirees ultimately win. All I can say is that if PERS loses, "one touch", will become "two or more touch" and that is PERS' problem, not mine. Obviously PERS is confident that it will win; otherwise it wouldn't be moving the way it is. So my advice is to sit back, grouse all you want, but expect the grousing to fall on deaf ears from the legal and judicial community. They will decide when they decide, and then someone will appeal and the wait will begin anew. And from there, its possible for a final appeal to the Supreme Court, which is where we all expect this to go for "final" (good god I hope so) resolution and clarification. We have no choice but to endure this long line of pain.

Note added 9:14 pm. If you want to discuss this post openly, please go to my other blog site www.orpersinfo.com and post your comments to the entry "Waiting On the World To Change". It is the most current addition to that site.

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