Rhode Island bid to drop judge from reform case rejected by state high court

The Rhode Island Supreme Court refused to hear a request by the state to block a trial judge from presiding over lawsuits from unions and retirees over the creation of a state hybrid pension plan.

The state had asked that Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter recuse herself from the lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the pension changes because her son is an active member of the state police and her mother receives a pension benefit from the state.

Ms. Taft-Carter disclosed that her son is not vested in the pension plan and her mother “receives a small monthly benefit” that would not be greatly affected by the elimination of cost-of-living increases.

“When measured against such weighty concerns, the necessity of immediate review of the trial justice's careful decision declining to recuse from this case — as well as of inevitable future rulings in this litigation which are certain to be disputed or controversial — appears less compelling,” the Supreme Court ruling, made Thursday, stated.

The Rhode Island General Assembly in November 2011 passed a widespread pension reform bill, the Rhode Island Retirement Security Act of 2011, that created the hybrid plan. State Treasurer Gina Raimond has said the reform measure would decrease the unfunded liability of the $7.5 billion Rhode Island Employees' Retirement System, Providence, by a total of about $3 billion.