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As reporters, city employees, attorneys and residents alike await the judge’s ruling in the pension-benefits case, it’s probably a good idea to consider the following things that may have gotten buried in news stories:
- If the judge does rule against City Attorney Mike Aguirre’s motion, it doesn’t mean the case is done. Aguirre has asked the judge to essentially skip a jury trial and rule that a decade’s worth of employee pension benefits are illegal. The case would likely simply head to trial if Judge Jeffrey Barton rules against the city attorney’s motion.
- In order to grant Aguirre’s motion, Barton would have rule that there are no issues of factual dispute that would need to be worked out in the jury trial. That means he would accept without doubt, among other things, the assertion that the pension deals of 1996 and 2002 violated the state’s conflict-of-interest law and that they are considered contracts, not legislation, as is argued by the pension system.
- A drawn-out appeals process would follow any court decision, though city officials are likely hoping that any adverse ruling would force unions back to the negotiating table to fashion new deals rather than risk everything.
Also, I’ve repeatedly written that the case’s impact could be far reaching for city finances. It also should be noted that it is far reaching for the 11,000 or so city employees who have been planning their financial futures around these benefits.