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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Knocking on Heaven's Door

St. Peter welcomed our sister, Martha Sartain, today with open arms. She was sent off in a wonderfully special and simple service. I haven't been to a memorial service that showed as much love and affection as Martha's today. There were probably 75 people in attendance, including a few of us from here. Martha selected two people to speak after first having to be urged to even permit a memorial service. It became clear from the two selected that Martha was an incredible person, both as a talented and path-setting engineer with ODOT, a terrific and inspiring mentor for many, and a wonderful, funny, and loyal friend. Leave it to Martha to remark just before her passing that her biggest regret in life was that she wouldn't live long enough to collect social security. That brought a smile to everyone's face. Martha chose a beautiful piece of "real estate" (her term, not mine) for her final resting place. It will give me great pleasure to remember her each Memorial Day with flowers that she loved. I learned many things today about Martha that I didn't know. We all knew how smart, how worldly, and how articulate she was. I didn't know that she was a wonderful mentor, an amazing (and mischievious) friend, and I surely didn't know how talented a poet she was. The poem she wrote (but didn't expect to be read aloud) was specifically for attendees at the memorial and others who would mourn her passing. It was beautifully written and, while it brought a tear to my eyes, it comforted me in many ways as well. I hope that someone in her family or her circle of friends will urge its publication - it was that good. Martha is now at peace; may we all rededicate ourselves to the mission she set out to accomplish on *all* our behalves. It would be a wonderful memorial to her to actually get the justice she won.

Apropos of that justice, after the service I had a chance to talk "shop" with Scott Jonnson, the attorney who represented Martha and retirees in the Sartain v State of Oregon case that was part of the Strunk consolidated matter ruled on by the Oregon Supreme Court two years ago. Scott filled me in on the tardiness of the Oregon Supreme Court in issuing their final ruling in the "fee award" portion of Strunk. In her final days, Martha was concerned about the disposition of "her" case should she die before PERS was forced to implement. Scott assured her (and then me) that he would continue pursuit of PERS until they complied so that Martha's estate could get what she was denied in her lifetime, not to mention all the retirees she represented. There is no legal uncertainty created by her death. He also noted that Martha would live on forever through the case, as legal precedents are always referred to by the cases in which they were decided. Thus, "Sartain v State of Oregon" will become an historically important case and will continue to be cited in both Oregon and other state pension cases. One interested factoid emerged that I was unaware of. The attorney fee award in the Sartain case was tripled by the Special Master because he wanted the award to be sufficient to cover expenses and the donations made by OPRI members to subsidize the litigation. This is to prevent double jeopardy to OPRI contributors - the original donation plus the cost levied against retirees to pay OPRI for the legal fees incurred in its litigation against PERS. Thus, OPRI will have a difficult time NOT offering to refund the donations once PERS pays them what the Court is expected to order. The Court (in particular Judge Breithaupt, Special Master) made this an important part of its recommendation.

Finally, I now know the date, time, and place of the Arken/Robinson status conference. It is scheduled for August 16, 2007 at 9:00 a.m. in Judge Kantor's courtroom in the Multnomah County Circuit Court. A nice turnout would both honor Martha and provide us with important clues about how PERS is going to treat the ruling. Scott thought that with a summary judgement, PERS may have about 90 days (probably not any more) to decide whether to appeal. Nearly 30 days have already elapsed and we'll be up to almost 60 by the time of the status conference. PERS is going to have to fish or cut bait fairly soon and no one seems to be certain what they'll do.

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