Hughes' request for pension is denied Former governor sought $250,000 in payments

September 20, 1995|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

The state's highest court denied yesterday former Gov. Harry R. Hughes' request for $250,000 in back pension payments that he claimed he was owed, as a former state employee, while he was serving as governor.

Mr. Hughes, 69, sued the state retirement board in 1993, challenging its decision to withhold the pension he earned during his 22 years as a legislator and transportation secretary, while he was governor from 1979 to 1987.

He argued that as governor he was part of a separate retirement plan for governors and that he was not subject to the double-dipping prohibitions specified in Maryland's pension laws for most state workers.

But in a 5-2 decision, the Court of Appeals said yesterday the state laws that apply to Mr. Hughes' retirement specifically prohibit a sitting governor from collecting both a paycheck and a pension from the state Employee Retirement System (ERS).

"The aim of the statute is . . . to prevent state funds from being utilized to pay both an ERS pension and a state salary," Judge Howard S. Chasanow wrote in an 18-page decision.

In his 13-page dissent, Judge Robert M. Bell said that the court's decision should be based on rules specified in the governors' pension plan.

In that plan, there "was neither a state policy against double dipping nor a general prohibition against a pensioner receiving both a pension and a salary from the state at the same time," Judge Bell wrote.

The ruling yesterday reversed a decision by Baltimore Circuit Judge John Carroll Byrnes, who in October 1994 ordered the state retirement board to reconsider its denial of Mr. Hughes' back pension payments and to gather more evidence before deciding.

Carmen M. Shepard, the assistant attorney general who had appealed Judge Byrne's ruling, said yesterday's decision was a victory for taxpayers.

"Any other interpretation [of the state pension statutes] would have allowed the former governor a windfall that they clearly didn't mean for him to have," she said.

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