Mercer Accuses Law Firm of Pension Wrongdoing

August 18, 2008 ( - The long-running legal battle over a controversial Milwaukee County benefits program that eventually sparked a scandal and a personnel reshuffling has taken a new turn.

Federal court filings in Milwaukee County’s suit against Mercer now show the consultant has pointed an accusing finger against a Milwaukee law firm, which it accuses of helping to develop the “backdrop” benefits perk in the first place, theMilwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.  

The Mercer legal documents charged that lawyers from the Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren firm helped former county Human Resources Director Gary Dobbert design the “backdrop,” and not Mercer as the county claims.

The county sued Mercer in 2006 for malpractice, claiming it failed to warn officials about the”backdrop’s” potentially steep cost before it was first approved  (See  Milwaukee Board Hits Mercer with Pension Lawsuit ).

The “backdrop” allowed some county retirees to collect six-figure lump sums as well as monthly pension checks. The backdrop and other generous benefits spawned the scandal that led to the forced resignation of then-County Executive F. Thomas Ament and the ouster of seven county supervisors and several top Ament aides. Dobbert was convicted of misconduct for lying about the backdrop cost

According to the newspaper, Mercer now argues that it had only "casual conversations" with Dobbert about the backdrop before its late-2000 enactment. It was the Reinhart firm and one of its lawyers, Steve Huff, who partnered with Dobbert to draw up the backdrop, according to Mercer.

"Dobbert intentionally chose to exclude Mercer from the backdrop design process, choosing instead to involve the county's outside counsel, the Reinhart law firm," a Mercer brief states.

Once Dobbert got permission from Ament in September 2000 to include a backdrop benefit in labor negotiations that fall, he again sought Reinhart's advice on the benefit design, the brief says.

The newspaper said Huff asserted on Friday that Mercer's claims were "totally false, totally malicious." Reinhart had "absolutely nothing to do with" the design or estimating the cost of the backdrop benefit, Huff said.

Mercer says it shouldn't be held liable for any costs because county officials didn't rely on Mercer advice in voting for the benefit.