San Diego Pension Dispute Heads to Trial

July 11, 2006 ( - A California judge rebuffed efforts to decide before trial whether the pension benefit hikes San Diego city workers received in the last 10 years were illegal.

Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Barton concluded there was enough of a dispute over the facts and the law in the case that it should move forward to trial, the San Diego Union Tribune reported (See  Judge Clarifies Competing San Diego Pension Lawsuits ).

Barton’s ruling represents a setback in the campaign of City Attorney Michael Aguirre, who demanded a quick decision that the benefits were illegally granted and therefore invalid, according to the news report (See San Diego’s Aguirre Demands Court Roll Back Pensions ). The nine-page ruling resolved few of the significant legal issues in the case.

At a news conference, according to the news report, Aguirre called the ruling disappointing and said Barton had “punted.”

“This was a case where the parties needed to have a more definitive and persuasive decision than what has been presented here,” Aguirre asserted, according to the news report.

The case centers on retirement benefits and agreements that the city, its labor unions and the San Diego City Employees Retirement System, decided in 1996 and 2002. The city attorney contends that increases in employee retirement benefits were illegally linked to an agreement in which the city paid less into the pension system than it actually owed.

Aguirre also argues that some members of the city retirement board had an illegal financial interest in the transactions because their benefits would be increased, which he said violated the state conflict-of-interest law for public officials.

Much of the Barton ruling seemed to favor the union side, according to the Union Tribune. Aguirre also argued that the pension system’s actions violated state and city debt-limit laws, which prevent governments from taking on more debt than they can handle in a year without a citizens’ vote.