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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Jet Lag

News from the PERS front is pitiful right now. There are three lawsuits awaiting action from Judge Henry Kantor of the Multnomah County Circuit Court. Despite promising a "quick" ruling, both the Arken and Robinson cases have been awaiting Judge Kantor's decision since September 28, 2006 - 8 full months now. Both of these are high stakes cases that could affect the way PERS is currently handling the invoicing and collection from "window" retirees (Arken) as well as a broader segment of PERS retirees (Robinson). Judge Kantor has had several high profile cases on his calendar since he made the prediction of a relatively quick decision, but those cases have come, gone, and are in various stages of appeal. Resolution of the Arken and Robinson cases would hardly be definitive at this legal level. Parties on both sides of both cases have promised to appeal any adverse ruling, so both cases are ultimately heading for the Oregon Supreme Court. However, to get to the OSC, both cases would have to go through the Oregon Court of Appeals first, leaving final resolution in limbo until at least 2011 by current estimates. Justice moves very slowly.

There is considerable debate among window retirees and others targeted for collection efforts as to whether the PERS Coalition should push for an injunction to stop PERS from its collection efforts if it wins either or both cases at Judge Kantor's level. PERSonally (sorry, couldn't resist), I'd prefer PERS continue its collection efforts rather than stop part way through. There is no way I can imagine that PERS would suddenly decide to grant COLA raises on the original benefit. Consequently, I could see an injunction having the effect of freezing our original benefit indefinitely. I'd rather be getting COLA adjustments on my revised benefit than to have my current benefit frozen for another few years. Most window retirees are at or near the point where the revised benefit with COLAS exceeds the current benefit. Not seeking an injunction at this point would probably mean that we'd all get something more than we're getting now (MOST would; a few continue to be screwed by some bizarre unintended consequences that make their benefits significantly smaller). And we'd continue to get COLA each August 1. I hope the PERS Coalition sees the disadvantage of trying to force an injunction unless they pursue one that restores the COLA to the original fixed benefit.

This will probably be my last post until after June 16th. I will be on the East Coast visiting friends and family (and catching a few plays) for the next several weeks. As always, I will monitor email and try to respond to urgent issues. I will also keep watching for any significant events that are "of the moment" and will attempt to update this blog from a distance via Internet Cafes. I can get email on my phone, but I can't do blogging from it and I'm not taking a notebook computer with me this time. Enjoy the great weather while it lasts. Since the Rose Festival has started, it is a given that crappy weather will soon be upon us. Just remember the Oregon summer law - "in Oregon, summer begins on July 5th".

Note added at 5:30 p.m. In my haste to write this, I omitted a couple of other significant issues that remain to be resolved. The "White" case challenges the settlement agreement itself. Should this case finally get a hearing and a ruling, it has the potential of overshadowing any of the other extant cases as it would invalidate the settlement and make both Arken and Robinson unnecessary. Similarly, the Supreme Court appointed a Special Master to take up the matter of attorney fees in the Strunk case. To apportion attorney fees, the court has to decide who are the "winners" and who are the "losers". In a perverse twist of fate, the Special Master concluded that the "window retirees" won their case, while the opposition argued that the "window retirees" won nothing and are worse off now than they would have been if the Sartain case had never been filed. The special master recommended that PERS pay attorney fees and PERS has decided that "window retirees" should be dunned for "winning". PERS has no independent money to foot these bills and all such judgements eventually come out of administrative expenses. The Supreme Court has not accepted the Special Master's conclusions and has not issued a ruling. Those of us who think deeply about such things think that the SC may be trying to dodge a ruling here as a declaration of "window retirees" as "winners" and their attorneys as deserving of attorney fees might require the SC to clarify what it meant in its ruling. Nothing would please me more than to see the SC forced to explain its ruling in the Sartain (COLA freeze) case. If they explain it the way they wrote it, PERS has a very difficult time justifying what it is doing now and it would trump all existing legal cases. Some part of me is enjoying imagining the SC squirm. The other part of me is wondering how the "current" SC can interpret what a "previous" SC might have meant. Needless to say, the SC will eventually have to issue a decision and no matter how they choose to parse it, it *will* clarify (or further obfuscate) the Strunk decision. This is one of those few legal decisions I await with some glee. I like watching the SC twist slowly in the wind.

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