O.C. supervisors vote to appeal judge's rejection of pension suit against deputies' union
Orange County supervisors voted 4 to 1 in closed session today to appeal a judge's rejection of a roughly 2-year-old lawsuit against the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs that seeks to roll back increased pension plans approved in 2001.
In July, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Helen Bendix rejected Orange County’s argument that the plans violated state constitutional limits on deficit spending and were a gift of public funds because the retirement benefits were granted retroactively. It was the second time Bendix rejected the county’s suit.
Many agencies across the state are watching the case closely because it could affect their pension plans.
The supervisors' decision was “very disappointing,” said Wayne Quint, president of the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs. “They know they have no case. They’re playing politics. And when you’re sitting up there and your deep pockets are the taxpayer, you can do that.”
Supervisor Janet Nguyen was the lone vote against the appeal, which she called a gamble. She said the recent court judgments as well as the county’s dire financial picture were main factors in her decision.
“I cannot continue to put our county services in further jeopardy by expending the limited resources we have in pursuing this litigation,” Nguyen said.
But Supervisor John Moorlach, who has been a major proponent of the suit, said it’s important to see the case through because of its ultimate cost savings. He said the county’s unfunded liability is currently more than $3 billion.
“For just a little bit more we can take it to the appellate level and get some resolution. . . . This is something that would pay tremendous dividends if and when we succeed,” Moorlach said. The appeal, he said, would cost a relatively small amount of money: “It’s sort of like going from the 5-yard line to the goal line, it’s not that much."
The county estimates it would save at least $187 million in future pension costs. It has spent nearly $2 million in taxpayer money on the legal fight as of June 30, according to county records provided to the union.
--Tami Abdollah, reporting from Orange County