Detroit Pension Fund Participant Gets TRO

May 18, 2009 ( - A City of Detroit worker suing one of Detroit's public pensions won a temporary restraining order Friday that prohibits the fund from destroying documents, including travel and investment records.

“We were concerned that critical documentation might be missing and therefore, to protect the pensioners and their rights, we felt like it was necessary to ask the court to restrain the destruction of documents,” Troy lawyer Gerard Mantese, who represents the worker, said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press.

Coletta Estes, a senior water plant operator, is suing current and former trustees of Detroit’s General Retirement System and pension investment adviser Adrian Anderson. Estes’ lawyers have said they plan to ask that the case be declared a class action on behalf of all city workers and retirees covered by the general retirement fund, one of two public pension funds for the city.  Estes alleges in the suit that pension trustees breached their fiduciary duties by failing to properly investigate several investment deals that later collapsed, costing the fund tens of millions of dollars (see  Detroit City Employee Sues Trustees and Adviser over Risky Investments ).

Wayne County Circuit Judge Amy Hathaway signed the restraining order Friday.   Estes’ lawyer sought the order after the Free Press reported Friday that the General Retirement System, as well as Detroit’s Police and Fire Retirement System, voted in 2006 to destroy travel records after auditors close the books on a given year – due to storage space concerns.   The board’s 21 trustees approved travel to more than 100 conferences last year, The Associated Press reported, including a roughly $20,000 trip to a pension conference in Dubai for Detroit City Council member Barbara-Rose Collins, a trustee of the fund.

Mantese had argued that the injunction was necessary to preserve evidence related to Estes’ claims, according to a motion filed in Wayne County Circuit Court.

The issue – and costs attendant with – public fund trustee education has been raised in other situations.   Public fund trustees—who are not compensated for their service—actually have continuing education requirements. Most states have statutes requiring public fund trustees and senior staff to attend conferences for continuing education credits (see  Public Trust ).