Thursday, September 20, 2012
When Judges Are Plaintiffs, Who's The Judge?
Judges ruling on the constitutionality of their own pension reductions is a drama playing out across the United States. For example, in July, former Illinois Appellate Judge Gordon Maag became the lead plaintiff in a class-action against the state of Illinois. The 61-year-old state retiree, who is pulling in an annual pension of $98,000, is suing the state for more. In addition to the pension he began collecting at age 55 and his annual guaranteed cost of living adjustments, he contends he is entitled to free health insurance for life.
In June, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation that calls for requiring retired state employees, university workers, lawmakers and judges to begin paying premiums for state health insurance. It’s one of the state’s first steps toward reducing retirement costs. But Maag, who not only lost an election to the Illinois Supreme Court but was removed by the voters from his appellate judgeship during a 2004 retention race, says he shouldn’t see a reduction in his benefits.
According to news accounts, the retired judge contends the new law “abolishes free health insurance to Illinois retirees who were and are entitled to free health insurance on account of working for the state for 20 or more years of service, or, in the case of retired legislators, four years, and in the case of retired judges, six years.” So he is inviting fellow state retirees to join in his lawsuit in which his son, Peter, is the lead attorney.
“A retired judge is no different from a retired prison guard,’ said Ed Murnane, a vocal critic of Maag and president of the Illinois Civil Justice League, a group lobbying for Illinois tort reform.. ”They have the same rights to bring a case to court. The question is, will judges ruling on their cases be more likely to rule in their favor because it is the case involving a fellow judge? I don’t know the answer to that question.”
One person who does have a definite opinion on it is Frank Keegan, editor of State Budget Solutions. “Obviously, the reason public employee unions are picking retired judges as lead plaintiffs and as the attorneys in their cases is because they want to influence sitting judges,” Keegan said. “They want judges to rule in their own self-interest and rule that pension benefits cannot be reduced.”
Keegan said he believes someone other than judges should make the ultimate decision on pensions. “Judges aren’t the ones who will end up paying for these pensions. It will be up to the taxpayers to pay these pensions. In the case of a state like Illinois, it will be the grandchildren of current taxpayers who will be paying for these benefits. Maybe the taxpayers should vote on it rather than have a judge decide."
You can Read Scott's full report at: http://watchdog.org/56765/judges-plaintiffs/