Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Retired Judge Not Entitled to Two Payouts Under JRS II—C.A
Panel Says Jurist Cannot Collect Monthly Disability Pension and Lump Sum Based on Service Time
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A qualifying member of the Judges Retirement System II may collect a monthly disability pension, or a lump sum for retirement based on service, but not both, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
While the relevant statutes “ideally would have been drafted with greater precision,” Justice Thomas Hollenhorst wrote for Div. Two, “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.”
The court 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.
JRS II Explained
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.”
“The absence of any contrary example—any situation where a judge is explicitly entitled to collect two retirement benefits under [JRS] II—weighs in favor of CalPERS’s interpretation.”
The case is Warner v. California Public Employees’ Retirement System, 15 S.O.S. 4216.
Copyright 2015, Metropolitan News Company