Dozens of retirees to appeal RI pension settlement

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s high-stakes state pension lawsuit isn’t over yet.

More than 60 public-sector retirees plan to file a joint appeal of the recently approved settlement in the case, which ended litigation over the 2011 retirement overhaul, their attorney Tom Dickinson confirmed on Wednesday. He declined to discuss the substance of their arguments.

The individuals Dickinson is representing were originally some of the so-called Clifford plaintiffs, a small group of who filed a separate lawsuit in 2014 because they were unhappy with the terms of the first settlement the state’s unions agreed to accept. While that deal didn’t go through at the time, it went on to form the basis of the settlement finalized this month.

R.I. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter entered her final judgment approving the pension settlement on July 8, which started the 20-day clock for parties to file notices of appeal challenging her decision. Dickinson, whose office is in Johnston, said he will file his clients’ appeal before the deadline.

The sweeping settlement ended nearly all legal challenges to the 2011 state pension overhaul, which saved taxpayers roughly $4 billion. It retained most of the savings from the original law but sweetened some benefits as a concession to workers and retirees. Its terms took effect July 1.

Craig Berke, a spokesman for the courts, said as of Wednesday morning only one notice of appeal had been filed against the pension settlement. It was filed by Lee Grossi, a retired state worker who is representing himself.

Shana Autiello, a spokeswoman for General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, reiterated his support for the settlement on Wednesday, saying it “enhances financial stability for the state, while also improving benefits for many workers and retirees compared to what they received under the original reform.”

“The treasurer is confident in the ability of the state’s legal counsel to defend this important settlement before the Rhode Island Supreme Court if need be,” she said.

Once the notices of appeal are filed, the parties will have to request transcripts from the case. After that the Rhode Island Supreme Court can docket the case and potentially put the parties into its mediation program. If mediation is unsuccessful or isn’t tried, the parties would have to file so-called Rule 12A memos laying out their arguments. They would then meet for a conference with one of the high court’s justices.

It’s unclear how long the process will take. “My experience with appeals is it’s about a yearlong process under the fastest circumstances,” Dickinson said.

Separately, three employee groups that refused to join the settlement – active municipal police officers in the state-run pension system, and the police and fire unions in Cranston – are proceeding to trial. Their cases have been docketed for July 29.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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