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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

God Willin' and the Creek Don't Rise

Nothing like taking things down to the wire.  The PERS Coalition's lawsuit against PERS to prevent the release of retiree names with the data dump on November 21, has been scheduled for a hearing at 1:30 on - you guessed it - November 21.  Judge Vaughn Day of the Marion County Circuit Court has been assigned the case.  Day, a recent Kitzhaber appointee, was previously a plaintiff's attorney and also the state chairman of the Oregon Republican Party from 2005 - 2009.  I have exactly zero information on the few rulings Judge Day has made since his appointment in August 2011.

There are some legitimate concerns about the timing of this hearing.  While I can believe that Judge Day's calendar prevents him from hearing the case until THE day, one has to wonder about how this will play out.  For the sake of argument, let's assume that Judge Day holds with the plaintiffs and enjoins PERS from releasing the names along with the current benefit.  How does this work if PERS has already given the newspapers the information and they've already done something, albeit small, with it.  Suppose the Oregonian jumps in immediately and publishes the names and benefits of all who have retiree benefits in excess of $100,000, which was their request.  Since there are less than a thousand of these people, the data could be extracted quickly and easily and this could be published almost immediately, even before the Judge's ruling comes down.  What if PERS turns over the data earlier than November 21 so that we wake up on the morning of November 21 and find something far greater on the front page of both the Salem and Portland papers?  How would Judge Day handle that, particularly if he is inclined to support the plaintiffs' case?  Would the Oregonian and the Statesman-Journal be that ballsy knowing they would be at a hearing on the same day?  Are bullfrogs waterproof?  Does it rain in Oregon?

The logical and rational thing to do would be for PERS to hold back turning over the data until Judge Day rules on the 21st.  Since his decision must be issued in a timely matter, an injunction or not will almost assuredly come down nearly immediately after or during the hearing.  PERS should prepare two sets of data - one containing names and benefits of all 110,000 retirees or their beneficiaries, and a second containing only the benefits.  This way, they could meet the terms of the settlement agreement one way or the other by providing the mandated (by Judge Day, not by the settlement agreement) data no later than November 21st.

It is hard for me to imagine that PERS would let loose of any data until this legal obstacle is overcome.  At least that is the point of the title of this post.  I don't have any faith in the integrity of either newspaper, but I still hope that PERS has at least an ounce of integrity remaining in its rapidly depleting bank.

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