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OK, we’ve got a Code Red Misperception Alert.

We can argue all we want about whether the U.S. attorney’s and district attorney’s cases against former city of San Diego pension officials are valid. But this statement about yesterday’s court hearing is factually incorrect:

U.S. District Judge Roger T. Benitez also made some striking comments about the state’s criminal case, questioning the merits of the conflict-of-interest allegations against former city of San Diego pension trustees, whose job was to secure benefits for future retirees – including themselves.

Now, I can’t tell if that part “…whose job was to secure benefits for future retirees…” is what the reporter is saying, or if it’s what the reporter is saying the judge said.

Either way, it’s totally incorrect. The job of trustees of the pension system is most certainly not to “secure benefits for future retirees – including themselves.” It just plain isn’t. The board of trustees that oversees the city’s retirement fund is merely supposed to ensure that there is enough money to pay out the benefits. That’s it.

They decide on investment practices. They decide how much money to ask the city for in order to ensure they have enough to invest to make all the payments to retirees. They cannot give benefits or take them away.

For years, in fact, trustees have vehemently asserted that they do not, in any way, award benefits and therefore couldn’t have done anything wrong in the past. The whole allegation against all of the people facing trial, in fact, is that in 2002, they did inappropriately act to award themselves, and others, benefits.

I’m inclined to trust that U-T writer Kelly Thornton understands the situation and was merely passing along what the judge said. She’s a skilled reporter.

So, that means the judge simply has this point terribly, terribly confused.

SCOTT LEWIS

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