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The California Supreme Court today threw out four-and-a-half-year-old charges against five former members of the city of San Diego’s retirement board and left open the case against former board member and firefighter union president Ron Saathoff.

The decision means the five retirement board officials did not violate state conflict-of-interest laws when they voted in 2002 to underfund the city’s pension system while increasing future benefits. The court found that the five officials — Cathy Lexin, Mary Vattimo, Teresa Webster, Sharon Wilkinson and John Torres — received the same benefits as other city employees and therefore didn’t receive a personalized financial gain from the decision. Saathoff, the court decided, received a different kind of benefit based on his position with the union and could be tried on conflict charges.

Today’s news could signal movement in the other legal cases related to the pension underfunding scandal. The judge in a federal fraud case against Saathoff, Lexin, Webster and two others was waiting for a decision in this case before proceeding. A forthcoming decision in the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the so-called “honest services” law under which the former city officials were charged could also play a role.

Additionally, the Union-Tribune reported last week that the Securities and Exchange Commission is considering settling its April 2008 complaint against Webster, Vattimo and three others implicated in the pension scandal.

— LIAM DILLON

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