Friday, June 28, 2013

Court Issues Injunction, Statement of Decision Affirming Constitutional Protection For Pensions

In May, the Monterey Superior Court overturned a voter initiative that tried to impair police officers' pensions.  The judge in that case, Pacific Grove Police Officers Association et al. v. City of Pacific Grove, has now issued a permanent injunction and statement of decision.  The injunction prohibits the city from "taking any action to implement, enforce, or give any effect" to the initiative.

The statement of decision explains the Court's ruling.  The Court explained the initiative violated the California Constitution by capping the City's contribution toward police officers' pensions.  "The employees were told that they were to receive retirement benefits under a CalPERS administered plan with an employee cost set at a fixed percentage of their salary.  The fluctuating portion would be borne by the employer."  The City violated the constitutional prohibition on impairment of contracts by effectively flipping those roles.

The Court stressed employees' vested rights.  The Court said, "the Court reiterates that what is vested in the employee is the right to earn a pension on the terms promised to him or her upon employment."  As a result, "no subsequent legislation by the city, whether by Charter amendment, ordinance, or Council resolution, or voter initiative, can take these rights away once given..."

The Court also explained officers' pensions could not be decided by initiative and therefore the "Citizen's Initiative is invalid because it delegates the responsibility of the ultimate decision for fixing compensation to the voters."  The Court said under the city's Charter, which mirrored the general law, the city council had to set all compensation.

The Pacific Grove Police Officers Association and Police Management Association were represented by Mastagni Law attorney Jeffrey R. A. Edwards in the matter.