Rhode Island Judge Has Stake in Pension Case Outcome

Mary Williams Walsh
The New York Times
12/4/2012

Can a judge rule impartially on pension cuts when her mother, her son, her uncle and even she herself all have a stake in preserving the status quo?

In Rhode Island, the site of a sweeping pension overhaul last year, a prominent New York lawyer is seeking to help litigate the question: David Boies, perhaps best known for representing Al Gore in the fight over the 2000 presidential election and for waging an antitrust battle against Microsoft on behalf of the government in the 1990s.

Rhode Island’s dispute may not reach quite those dramatic heights, but it is being closely watched as a first major test of whether, and how, financially strained states and cities can cut the benefits of their workers and retirees.

Several public employee unions have sued Gov. Lincoln Chafee and other Rhode Island officials, accusing them of acting illegally when they pushed through a package of money-saving pension cuts last year, including suspending annual cost-of-living increases for most retirees. The unions want the richer benefits restored.

Their five pension lawsuits were assigned to Judge Sarah Taft-Carter of the state Superior Court, who has handled public pension cases before and handed a big victory to the unions in one recent case. Mr. Boies, who at $50 an hour is working for a small fraction of his ordinary fee, is seeking a less conflicted judge, and could even ask to move the case into federal court.

The case has raised questions and strong feelings about the overhaul in Rhode Island, a state so small that it seems as if nearly everybody has friends or family in the pension system. Could the judge see beyond the harsh effects on her own family?…

The article continues at The New York Times.

H/T Chuck N.

Update:  And an update from Rhode Island about the governor’s Christmas tree woes:

Gov. Grinch: Lincoln Chafee (I-R.I.) Claims it is “Traditional” to Call a Christmas Tree a Holiday Tree

“And the previous governor called it a holiday’s tree,” said Chafee. “That was the tradition.”

“I don’t know whether it goes back before him, the governor that preceded me, Gov. [Donald] Carcieri [R.]. Some say it goes back to the governor before him, Gov. [Lincoln] Almond [R.],” said Chafee. “But this has been the tradition of Rhode Island. I didn’t change anything.”

Well, of course.  Don’t you remember, as a kid, singing such carols as “O Holiday Tree” while chestnuts roasted on an open fire?…

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