To say that the wheels of
justice are turning slowly on the Arken and Robinson PERS
lawsuits would be a major understatement. An initial decision from trial court
Judge Henry Kantor of the Multnomah County Circuit Court has been expected for
months, and while Kantor slowly continues to fashion his opinion, PERS
Coalition attorney Greg Hartman feels compelled to offer an update on the case
— even though there's little to update.
To refresh your memory, the Arken (named after AFSCME Retiree Chapter President
Michael Arken) and Robinson cases
deal specifically with issues involving retired PERS members.
Arken is a class action lawsuit on behalf of
"window retirees" that challenges PERS' current efforts to re-allocate 1999
earnings and make collections from individual retirees. Robinson, a related case being handled by another
law firm, though in conjunction with Hartman, also challenges PERS' collection
efforts, arguing that they are inconsistent with Section 14(b) of the 2003 PERS
The wait has
been so long that the unions in the PERS Coalition and Hartman's office are
beginning to be peppered with questions about the lawsuits.
we continue to await decisions on both of these cases from Judge Kantor, so our
circumstances have not changed," said Hartman. "We had a phone conference with
the judge about six weeks ago and at that time he indicated he would have
decisions 'soon.' But it all depends on what his relative definition of 'soon'
continued its adjustment process so that window retirees continue to be
notified that their benefits are being adjusted downward. In addition, many are
also being informed that they will owe money to PERS for overpayments, although
PERS is not asking that the overpayment be returned at this time.
"There is also
no change to the status quo for those who were previously invoiced for an
overpayment," said Hartman. "People who paid the invoice are not having their
money returned, and individuals who elected the actuarial reduction option
continue to see their benefits paid at the reduced rate."
frustrating is the knowledge that it is highly unlikely that Kantor's decision,
whenever it comes, is the final word on the matter. Whichever side "loses" will
likely appeal. Technically, the two cases would go to the Oregon Court of
Appeals and then, most likely, on to the Oregon Supreme Court. The Court of
Appeals can, upon request, choose to waive its jurisdiction and allow the cases
to go directly to the state's high court. Hartman believes all parties involved
would favor that strategy, although he warns that the Court of Appeals may wish
to hear the cases even if all plaintiffs and defendants request the direct jump
to the Supreme Court.
"I know that
this situation continues to cause very justifiable anger among window retirees,
not only due to the unfairness of adjusting their benefits but also the
uncertainty which comes with the current process," said Hartman.
"Unfortunately, until Judge Kantor rules, we cannot change the status quo. And,
alas, we must be patient and understand that Judge Kantor's opinion in all
likelihood will not be the final say."