Thursday, November 12, 2015
Retired Jurist Loses Bid for Two Pensions
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court Tuesday declined to hear a retired judge’s claim that he is entitled to both a monthly disability pension and a lump sum for retirement based on service.
The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, left standing an August 17 ruling by the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Div. Two.
While the relevant statutes “ideally would have been drafted with greater precision,” Justice Thomas Hollenhorst wrote for the Court of Appeal, “we conclude the interpretation that fits most comfortably with the statutory scheme as whole, as well as its purpose, legislative history, and public policy, is that a judge who becomes disabled is not entitled to receive both disability and service retirement benefits under [JRS] II, but only one or the other.”
No justice of the high court voted to grant review in Warner v. California Public Employees’ Retirement System (2015) 239 Cal. App. 4th 659.
The Court of Appeal affirmed the denial of retired San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Christopher Warner’s petition for writ of mandate. Warner, who is collecting a monthly disability check from the JRS II, sued after the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which administers JRS II, denied him a lump sum payout of $572,000 based on his 14 years of judicial service.
Under JRS II, which includes all judges appointed or elected since Nov. 9, 1994, a member who retires at age 65 or older with 20 years of service, or at age 70 with five years of service, can choose to receive a defined benefit of up to 75 percent of judicial salary.
JRS II members who retire before becoming eligible for the defined benefit, or who choose not to take it, receive a lump sum or annuity based on how much they, and the state, contribute to the plan and the plan’s return on investment, similar to a 401(k) plan.
A JRS II member who retires due to disability is eligible for a monthly benefit of up to 65 of the salary of his last judicial office, provided that the disability is service-related or that the judge served for at least five years.
Warner contended, among other things, that because the disability and service retirement provisions appear in different articles of the law, the provisions are independent of each other, and an eligible jurist may therefore take advantage of both.
Then-Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brian Hoffstadt, who was assigned to hear the case in San Bernardino and was subsequently elevated to this district’s Court of Appeal, rejected the argument, writing:
“Judge Warner has served the State with distinction as a bench officer, and his disability prior to full retirement age deprived the People of San Bernardino County of an able judge. As currently written, however, the JRS II statutes require that Judge Warner be awarded a disability retirement annuity benefit and no other retirement benefit.”
Hollenhorst, writing for the Court of Appeal, agreed. The trial judge’s interpretation, he wrote, is consistent with the general structure of the JRS II law, which requires “normal” retirees to choose between a monthly allowance or a lump sum, and says early retirees are to receive a lump sum “and no other amount.”
In other conference action, the justices declined to review the First District Court of Appeal’s rejection of a suit challenging the way pregnant pigs are displayed at the California State Fair. They voted 6-0 to deny review in Animal Legal Defense Fund v. California Exposition and State Fairs (2015) 239 Cal. App. 4th 1286.
Justice Goodwin H. Liu was recused.
The appeals court’s Div. Two held Aug. 27 that an Alameda Superior Court judge was correct in tossing the suit by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and two individuals. The panel concluded that a taxpayer suit is not a proper vehicle for enforcing the state laws on animal cruelty.
The defendants were California Exposition and State Fairs—better known as CalExpo—and UC Davis’s veterinary school. CalExpo organizes the fair, which is held in Sacramento every July.
The vet school was named as a defendant because it contracts with CalExpo to set up and manage the livestock nursery exhibit where pigs, who are generally brought to the fair about two weeks before giving birth, are put on display while they bear and nurse their piglets.
The transport of pigs so close to giving birth, their confinement in five foot by three foot farrowing crates at the fairgrounds, and the display of crated pigs in close proximity to fairgoers cause stress and discomfort, the plaintiffs alleged. They also accused the defendants of violating Penal Code provisions barring the subjection of animals to “needless suffering” and requiring that a confined animal be provided “with an adequate exercise area.”
The plaintiffs pled their suit as a taxpayer action under Code of Civil Procedure §526a. They said they were “the only persons who can challenge this unlawful government conduct because Cal Expo and the School’s victims are pigs who do not have standing to sue.”
The defendants demurred on the grounds that only public authorities and humane societies have standing to enforce animal cruelty laws; that Proposition 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act approved by voters in 2008 and operative Jan. 1 of this year, protects the right to confine animals during fairs; and that the conduct alleged constituted discretionary action by a public agency and was thus beyond the reach of §526a.
The trial judge ruled for the defendants on all three issues, and said the plaintiffs were attempting “to pursue principally ‘political’ issues and issues involving the exercise of the discretion of either the legislative or executives branches of government.”
The Court of Appeal affirmed on the ground that the plaintiffs lacked a private right of action, and found it unnecessary to rule on the other issues.
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