Taxpayers group loses pension suit

February 08, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

Robert Schaeffer and his Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association will have to look outside of Circuit Court to revamp the county's pension system.

A judge yesterday threw out a lawsuit brought by the taxpayers group to overturn a 1989 law increasing pension benefits for elected and appointed officials.

The judge also ruled the county could not roll back benefits it awarded employees under the 1989 law -- which could bode ill for a bill under consideration by the council that would not only roll back the benefits, but require the extra money earned be paid back at 4 percent interest.

Judge Eugene M. Lerner ruled in a 12-page opinion that Mr. Schaeffer, president of the taxpayers group, waited too long to file his suit. The law lowered the retirement age and increased benefits for appointed officials by 20 percent.

An appeal should have been filed within three years of the bill's passage, the judge said.

Mr. Schaeffer "knew or had reason to know that this bill dealt with pension rights in May 1989 or at the latest, June 9, 1989, and yet he did nothing about it until September 10, 1993," Judge Lerner wrote. "He is truly a 'Johnny (Robert) Come Lately,' and therefore . . . is not entitled to relief."

Judge Lerner also found that the Anne Arundel County Council complied substantially with a constitutional provision requiring publication of a bill "once a week for two consecutive weeks" in a newspaper prior to enactment.

Mr. Schaeffer's lawyer, John R. Greiber Jr., had argued that two weeks means 14 days and that the county only allowed seven days between its first advertisement of the bill on May 8, 1989, and the last publication on May 15, when the council approved it.

Judge Lerner ruled that the pension bill passed in 1989 "fully complies with the intent and the spirit of the law."

The constitution "only requires publication once a week for two weeks prior to enactment," he wrote. "This was clearly satisfied, as the first was on one week, and the second on the successive week."

Finally, Judge Lerner ruled in favor of Joseph McCann, former director of the county's Recreation and Parks Department, who argued that repealing the law would reduce his pension by $8,175 a year and would cause him great financial hardship. To repeal the pension benefits granted to him by the 1989 law would violate Mr. McCann's contract rights under the U.S. Constitution, the judge ruled. "Thus, this Court holds that [Mr. McCann] and others similarly situated are entitled to what was and is contracted for, promised and vested. It can only be modified by giving them other reasonable benefits," Judge Lerner wrote.

Council Vice Chairwoman Maureen Lamb has proposed invalidating the 1989 law and requiring that officials who collected the increased benefits pay them back to the county, plus 4 percent interest. Deputy County Attorney David A. Plymyer said yesterday that the judge's ruling, since it was not made by an appellate court, will have no direct legal effect on Ms. Lamb's proposal.

Mr. Greiber said he was disappointed with Judge Lerner's ruling and promised to appeal. "I think he's made any number of mistakes in this and, unfortunately, it's going to cost the taxpayers more money in settling this," Mr. Greiber said.

Mr. Schaeffer said he could not believe the judge sided with the county on all counts. "As usual, where the people are involved, the judiciary and a very dishonest government have once again sided with each other on behalf of greed and power," he said.

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