PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – On Friday a R.I. Superior Court judge is scheduled to hear arguments in a motion to toss the union lawsuit aimed at dismantling the landmark pension reform act, and a motion questioning whether she can be impartial as the case moves forward.
Lawyers for the state – who are defending their position that they had a right to enact major changes to the retirement system – argue Associate Judge Sarah Taft-Carter should recuse herself because her uncle collects a pension managed by the state. She previously dismissed a push to get her to step down because her son is an active state trooper and because she will also collect a pension when she retires.
On Thursday the R.I. Supreme Court declined to intervene after the state asked the high court to review Taft-Carter's decision not to step down. It's expected that the state Supreme Court will ultimately have the final say on whatever the lower court rules on the overall lawsuit.
On Friday, Associate Judge Taft-Carter will also consider whether famed lawyer David Boies will be allowed to represent the state in the lawsuit.
The state's labor unions filed suit after the General Assembly passed pension reform last November. The changes went into effect July 1.
The law is aimed at saving billions of dollars by suspending retirees' cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) until the pension system is 80% funded and moving most current employees into a hybrid pension plan.
It also changed the retirement age depending on how long an employee has been on the job. The changes affect nearly 70,000 state workers, teachers and some municipal workers whose plans are managed by the state.
On Monday Governor Lincoln Chafee told Target 12 both sides should negotiate as the case through litigation.
"In any litigation it's common practice to have negotiations," Chafee said. "I'm in favor of that: of having negotiation as litigation goes forward."
General Treasurer Gina Raimondo strongly opposed that plan issuing a statement Wednesday that said, "it is not the time for closed-door meetings. This is not a time for politics."
"If at some point the court asks the state to sit down to try and reach a settlement, we will do so in good faith," Raimondo said. "In the meantime, Treasury will continue to work diligently to defend the important work done by the General Assembly."
House Speaker Gordon Fox also weighed in against Chafee's initiative. "It is not appropriate for me to negotiate legislation that was passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor," he said. "The time to negotiate was during the 30 hours of public hearings that were conducted by the legislature."
The unions argue the state broke an implied contract with its employees by passing the pension reform act. An initial ruling by Taft-Carter agreed with labor.
The state said there was no contract and they had the right to make the changes. They also argue the pension changes pass legal muster because the retirement plan was in such dire financial shape there was no other alternative but to pass the legislation.
Copyright WPRI 12