San Diego Illegal Pension Challenge too Late: Judge

August 3, 2007 ( - Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Barton has dealt another blow to San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre's quest to roll back certain city pension benefits.

Since the initial cross-complaint was not filed until July 2005 – more than two and a half years after the discovery of the alleged wrongdoing, it cannot survive the latest procedural challenge,” Barton wrote in the  20-page ruling .

That means that the case now before Barton will not address Aguirre’s main contention – that board members accepted new benefits (they were among the group that benefited from a vote to increase pension benefits) in exchange for their votes to support a plan (see  Officials Admit They Made Mistake in San Diego Pension Decision ) that ultimately contributed to a significantly underfunded pension plan for the City by the Sea, as much as $1.4 billion at one point, though it has narrowed considerably since then ( San Diego Benefits “Void” Says City Attorney Report ).

The Ruling

Barton ruled that a recent appellate court decision (Brandenburg v. Eureka Redevelopment Agency) established the statute of limitations for alleged civil violations of that law at one year.   While Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger just last month signed a bill that would extend that limit to four years, Judge Barton noted that the new statute of limitations was not effective until January 1, and that the legislature did not make that “retroactively applicable to pending cases.”  

The case originated with a January 2005 lawsuit by the pension system, which sought to block Aguirre from taking over as the fund’s legal counsel. Aguirre countersued six months later, alleging that the benefit increases were granted illegally (see  San Diego’s Aguirre Demands Court Roll Back Pensions “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” May Be Crux of SD Pension Woes ).   Nor is it the first setback for Aguirre in the tumultuous litigation (See  Judge Rebuffs Aguirre’s Arguments in SDCERS Pension Case )

Plan to Appeal

Aguirre, who dismissed Barton’s ruling as “hypertechnical (and)convoluted” and a “sad chapter in the legal history of our city,” according to the Union Tribune, said he plans to appeal.   As of the end of last year (over the two years since Michael Aguirre took office as San Diego’s attorney), he has racked up $1.6 million in private legal expenses stemming from battles over the city’s beleaguered pension system (see  SD’s Aguirre Estimates Private Legal Advice Costs at $1.6M ).

Six former pension board members have been awaiting trial for two years on the charges, but the case has been stalled since the state Supreme Court in November ordered a review of whether it should be dismissed (see  Federal San Diego Pension Trial on Hold Five Indicted in San Diego City Pension Case ).