Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Media & Watchdog Group Press for Pension Records' Release

Downtown San DiegoImage via WikipediaIn a 24-page decision last fall, San Diego County Superior Court Judge Timothy B. Taylor said the case at issue posed "a conflict between two bedrock principles of our democracy: the public's right to know information about the finances and operations of its government and the individual citizen's right to privacy."

In CFFR & Marcia Fritz v. SDCERA (Case No. 2010-00098768), Californians for Fiscal Responsibility ("CFFR"), a taxpayer watchdog group, and several news media outlets, including the San Diego Times-Union, the Los Angeles Times, Reuters and The Associated Press find themselves on the same side against the San Diego County Employees Retirement Association ("SDCERA"), trying to compel San Diego County's pension board to release pension information concerning its highest-paid retirees, according to a story in the Union-Tribune.

The pension board declined to release the names and pension data of 350 retirees whose annual pension earnings top $100,000 on the grounds that disclosure would subject the former government workers to identity theft and elder abuse.

But judges in California counties including Orange, San Diego, Sonoma and Sacramento have found that the names of pension recipients who were former government employees is a matter of public record. SDCERA is appealing Judge Taylor's order granting a petition for writ of mandate in which he ruled: "[the] evidentiary record,,,fails to establish that the retirees' privacy rights clearly outweigh CFFR's interest in receiving the information."

Proponents favoring disclosure of the pension information further cite as precedent two Attorney General Opinions finding names and pension amounts of retired public employees are not exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act [Govt. Code Secs. 62.50-62.76.48].

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  1. A conflict of laws issue. I noted with interest your recent comment that Conflict of Laws was "not your cup of tea" in law school. Given your insightful and precise analyses on this blog, I'm surprised. My own son won his law school's gold medal for that very subject.

    In this pension records case, the claim that disclosure would subject the former government workers to identity theft and elder abuse seems unreasonable and absurd. SDCERA is more likely concerned with the judgmental abuse they'd suffer.

    It's interesting how often transparency and freedom of information are promoted as desireable principles, but only until they impact self-interest.

  2. Understand why the former public employees might feel under siege, but court rulings to date suggest an uphill battle for SDCERA. There are legitimate exemptions under the public records law, but the Legislature chose not to exempt such information. As for my long-ago law school experience, I was game for the rough-and-tumble of civil rights litigation, criminal law, torts and constitutional law. Conflict of Laws was very dry, which is ok for martinis, but deadly for law school lectures.