CA Court Rules for Disclosing Public Pension Amounts

May 12, 2011 ( – A California state appeals court ruled that the public has the right to learn the level of pension benefits that each retired county employee is receiving.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento said the names, benefits and work histories of Sacramento County retirees are public information not protected by California privacy laws.  

The Chronicle said pensions of retired state employees have been treated as public records since at least 1985, but county workers are covered by a different law, which makes “individual records of members” confidential. Justice Elena Duarte wrote in the 3-0 ruling that “individual records” are the personal information that employees provide to the pension system, and not the system’s own data on pension levels.  

The court rejected arguments by the Sacramento County Employees Retirement System that publicizing pension levels would subject elderly retirees to harassment. “Simply because many retirees are elderly does not mean they are too frail to weather disclosure of their individual pensions,” Duarte said. She said people who resent the benefit levels are more likely to blame government than individual retirees.  

Disclosure practices vary around the state. Some counties, including San Francisco, provide pension information voluntarily, but others have been contesting the issue in court since 2007, said Karl Olson, a lawyer for plaintiffs in the Sacramento case, according to The Chronicle.   

He said all seven Superior Court judges who have ruled so far, including judges in Contra Costa and Sonoma counties, have ordered disclosure.  

The news media want the information “not to demonize public employees, but to get truthful information to the public,” said Olson, who represents the Sacramento Bee and the First Amendment Coalition (see Sacramento County Retirement System Sued for List of Highest Pensions Paid).  

The Sacramento County retirement system could appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.