Monday, November 24, 2008
Younger’s Receipt of Multiple Pensions Generates Public Ire
By ROGER M. GRACE
Seventy-Ninth in a Series
EVELLE J. YOUNGER was plagued in his 1978 campaign for governor by the issue of his so-called “double-dipping” with respect to pensions. It drew attention in the aftermath of a bad choice of words by him at a press conference on May 24, 1977. Trying to be funny, Younger, touting a bill to raise the salaries of state officials, said that he was “flat broke.”
Younger told reporters, according to a United Press International account:
“But the fact is your attorney general is flat broke. I’m not going on any extended trips anywhere (on vacation). Not that I expect any sympathy because there’s no way somebody making $42,500 a year is going to get a lot of sympathy.”
The “flat broke” claim inspired Los Angeles Times political writer Richard Bergholz to do some digging. The newspaper’s June 28, 1977 issue contains his report that Younger, once all four of his pensions had kicked in, would be drawing $53,226 a year.
The article quotes Younger as saying that the “flat broke” remark “was supposed to be a joke.” Bergholz relates the AG’s realization: “Obviously, it didn’t come off.”
His piece goes on to quote Younger as explaining:
“What I was trying to say was that as attorney general, my salary had been reduced by 50% by going for eight years without a raise” while inflation and the cost of living rose.
The controversy did not die down.
The Times on July 7 contains six letters to the editor excoriating Younger. They included lines like:
“Atty. Gen. Evelle Younger’s multiple-dipping at the taxpayer’s expense...is a vulgar expression of the public-be-damned attitude taken by so many of our politicians....I am damned mad.”
Younger’s former second-in-command in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, Lynn D. “Buck” Compton, by then a justice of the Court of Appeal, went to bat for his former boss. His July 25 letter to the editor points out:
“[Government] pension systems were created by the legislative branches of government and, except in the case of legislators’ pensions, the beneficiaries of these systems, including Evelle Younger, had nothing to do with their creation.”
That sparked two letters to the editor, published Aug. 6, blasting Compton. And more letters were published assailing Younger. (Another unannounced candidate for the Republican nomination for governor, Los Angeles Police Chief Ed Davis, was also targeted in light of his upcoming $48,851-a-year pension. Davis was slated to leave office Jan. 16, 1978.)
Earl G. Waters’ syndicated “State of the State” column published in newspapers on or near July 14, 1977, thunders:
“Although he now says it was uttered in jest, attorney general Evelle J Younger’s recent statement to the press that he was ‘flat broke’ may prove to be the prize political faux pas of the 1978 gubernatorial campaign before it even begins.
“For the disclosures by Los Angeles Times reporter Richard Bergholz of the pension benefits Younger has accumulated during a lifetime at the public trough makes his ‘joke’ a bad one indeed. Younger has reached into the public pork barrel with both arms so far that the only remaining visible parts of him are the soles of his shoes....
“In fact his little ‘joke’ was so bad it may prove to be the downfall of his dreams to become the Republican nominee for governor.”
A Sept. 18, 1977 column in the Oakland Tribune by Political Editor Bill Martin says “[t]here’s nothing unlawful or even improper” about Younger’s receipt of multiple pensions, adding:
“But some party workers worry that many voters—pinched by high taxes, inflation and themselves facing meager pensions—will be turned off by a candidate who has thrived so well at their expense.”
Then national attention was cast on the controversy. The Nov. 11, 1977 issue of Parade Magazine, a supplement tucked into Sunday newspapers across the continent—and more significantly for Younger, throughout California—contains an article saying:
“Younger, 59, is a double-dipper, who is any person drawing a tax-paid pension and a tax-paid salary at the same time. Younger is paid $42,500 a year as attorney general of the state. Simultaneously he draws a pension of $530 a month from Los Angeles County, having previously served as district attorney of the county from 1964 to 1970.
“Next June 19th [his 60th birthday] he will draw a second pension as a retired major general in the Air Force Reserve. That pension will approximate $850 or more a month.
“In January 1978, after he leaves his job as attorney general of California, he will collect a third pension of about $1450 a month for his eight years of state service.
“Younger will receive a fourth pension in 1983 when he turns 65. For his past service as a superior court and municipal court judge, he will pull down another $1600 a month.”
The article says “it would be silly” of Younger to turn down the pension payments, but calls for federal legislation “to prevent this ever-growing monster of multi-dipping.”
The vox populi continued ranting. A Dec. 6 letter to the editor in the Pasadena Star-News starts out:
“I have finally recovered from the shock that possessed me when I read in the Star-News of Nov. 23 of the pension Jackpot that has been and is still being built up by Evelle Younger. What little hair is left on the top of this old head practically riz [sic] up and screamed BLOODY MURDER.
“When I compared it with the miserable stipend that the recipients receive from Social Security after working for 35 or 40 years like dogs it was almost enough to put me in the hospital.
“That anyone should be able to build up such an array of pensions for only 6 to 12 years of service is proof positive of what a nation of sheep the citizens of this country are.”
An editorial cartoon by Conrad published in the Times on March 15, 1978 (and in the Oakland Tribune on March 21) depicts Younger campaigning, his hand outstretched to clasp that of a voter, saying: “I’m Evelle Younger and I’m running for governor’s pension....”
A Sept. 7 Conrad cartoon is a mock poster reading: “Elect Evelle Younger—he’s never lost an election...or a pension.”
The criticism was unjust, in my view. Younger had paid money into the pension funds. Salaries for public officeholders were no doubt less than they would be were it not for the benefits, including pensions.
As the attorney general pointed at a press conference on Feb. 14, 1975:
“I probably would have done better if I had been able to invest my money myself....I would much prefer to have the money I paid into these pensions to create my own program.”
The derision to which Younger was subjected based on garnering benefits that simply went with the jobs he held causes his son, retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Eric Younger, now a mediator, to bristle. He says of his father:
“He got pensions. They were set by statute. He never had anything to say about the amounts of his pensions.”
If legislators were creating pensions that were excessive (and that would certainly seem to be a valid observation), that’s what should have attracted attention.
Younger’s wife, Mildred, on July 20, 1978, announced that she and her husband had agreed to donate to eight specified charities his pension for service as district attorney, minus the amount representing what he paid into the system. This was to continue for so long as he was in public office.
That was not to be for long, however. He lost the governorship race, then went into private practice with the firm which, upon his joining it, became known as Buchalter, Nemer, Fields, Chrystie & Younger.
The pension issue did not die, however. In fact, Younger, himself, drew public attention to the matter by filing a claim in 1979 with the Public Employees Retirement System board seeking a boost in his $19,000-a-year pension as a former attorney general to $47,500 per annum. He claimed entitlement under a statute in effect when he became attorney general that provided for cost-of-living increases, tied to the base year of 1954.
A Sacramento Bee editorial of Oct. 11, 1979 snorts:
“A good many taxpayers must have choked on their morning coffee the other day when they read that Evelle J. Younger is asking the state to more than double his annual pension as a former attorney general....
“Believing, as we do, in the funny old notion that the public treasury is not there to support high living by public employees or retired public employees, we hope Younger is unsuccessful in his bid for more money. The extra amount he is asking, after all, is more than many families in California earn in a year, let alone receive in pension funds.”
PERS turned him down. Younger filed an action for declaratory relief and a writ of mandate, and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Thomas Johnson (who later became presiding judge) granted summary judgment in favor of PERS.
During a hearing on Jan. 5, 1981, as an article the next day in the Times recites, Johnson told Younger’s attorney:
“Your client in the minds of most people of California is Mr. Pension. He has a wealth of pensions. He may be entitled to them all. I am not saying that he isn’t.”
The Court of Appeal on Nov. 29, 1982 affirmed in an opinion by then-Presiding Justice Arleigh Woods (now a private judge). Woods agreed with PERS that the statute Younger relied on was intended as “as a catch-up provision for legislators who had served between 1954 and 1963.”
The California Supreme Court denied review, with Justice Stanley Mosk (a former attorney general) not participating.
Pensions were tied to the salary of the current office-holder. In 1987, Younger’s annual pension as former attorney general jumped from $28,623 to $38,196.
YOUNGER’S UNPREDICTABILITY—Given the amount of negative publicity Younger incurred in connection with his pensions, you might have thought the last thing he would do would be to draw attention to the controversy anew by taking action to gain a hike in one of them. But he apparently thought he was right on the law—and a 1978 California Supreme Court decision saying that former Treasurer Bert Betts was entitled to have his pension calculated according to the scheme in effect when he took office gave him good reason to think that he was.
Younger took an unpredictable action, doubtlessly realizing he would incur public scorn, because he thought the law was not being properly applied. He often did what was not expected. This was, it would seem, not because he was erratic, but because he was principled.
For example, you would have thought this champion of law and order would have come out against the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1966 decision in Miranda v. Arizona, decided while he was district attorney. But he took a survey and ascertained, to his surprise, that the decision would have an effect on a negligible number of confessions. As Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Steven Trott recounts: “He was a DA who embraced Miranda as the law, saying we could live with it. That was Evelle, always a leader, always doing the right thing for the right reasons.”
As district attorney and then as attorney general, Younger had a highly active legislative program, a key part of which was a determined fight for laws to impede the pornography industry. On the November, 1966 ballot was Proposition 16, an anti-smut measure. The official ballot summary begins: “Declares state policy is to prohibit obscene matter and conduct.” It was supported by Gov. Ronald Reagan, state Secretary of State Frank Jordan, Los Angeles County Supervisor Warren Dorn, former American Bar Assn. President Loyd Wright, among many others. Proponents, in all probability, expected Younger to back it. He opposed it. As he saw it, its provisions were unconstitutional; if enacted, it would be struck down; since it would repeal existing anti-obscenity laws, at the point it was invalidated, the state would be defenseless against pornography.
Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, as I’ve noted in previous columns, heaped heavy criticism on Younger as DA, and called for his defeat in the election for attorney general in 1970. Nonetheless, Younger endorsed Yorty for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1980. The March 23, 1980 issue of the Herald-Examiner quotes Younger as terming Yorty “the only Republican who will wage an aggressive, effective and winning campaign in November.” (The Republicans instead put up Proposition 13’s co-author, Paul Gann, who lost to incumbent Alan Cranston, pulling only 37.1 percent of the vote.)
These recitations remind me of Younger’s record for sincerity and cause me to reflect that in addressing, in my last column, his 1977 vote to confirm Rose Bird as chief justice of California, I should have postulated that the reason he provided for his vote—though that reason may well be assailed as infirm—was his true reason…and that there wasn’t any ulterior political purpose, as suggested by commentators at the time.
In the next column, I’ll look at reasons, in addition to the pension flap, why Younger lost the 1978 election for governor.
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