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The judge presiding over San Diego’s major pension litigation will hear employees’ arguments that current retirement benefit levels should be maintained after stating tentative skepticism on a number of claims while reserving judgment on others.

Judge Jeffrey Barton’s consideration of the intervening employees’ motion on Tuesday morning is just one of the many steps during the next month – as an October trial date nears. The workers are asking the judge to make an outright determination that the benefits are legal.

Last winter, employees joined the dispute, which initially pitted the city against its retirement system. Employees hope to protect the benefits that City Attorney Mike Aguirre is seeking to eliminate.

Attorneys for the firefighter, white-collar and blue-collar unions and for unaffiliated employees say the challenged benefit increases cannot be rolled back because they are constitutionally protected. Further, they argue that the city cannot challenge benefits that the government itself granted, even if the city violated state debt-limit laws, and cannot try to invalidate the portion of benefits that were granted in a court-approved judgment.

The judge said in a tentative ruling he released Thursday afternoon that the employees have not convinced him on some claims. But the judge has not tipped his hand on other issues.

Barton also crafted a schedule that will shape the way the dispute’s myriad issues are argued and considered.

You can read the tentative ruling here.

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

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