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California Supreme Court accepts another pension rights case

The California Supreme Court agreed to hear a second case over whether vested pension rights can be reduced or eliminated, according to a Wednesday Supreme Court docket decision.

The justices made no comment in agreeing to review a Dec. 30 decision by a three-member San Francisco-based appellate panel concluding that vested pension rights can be reduced or eliminated.

The case stems from a 2013 pension reform law, which eliminated the option of participants in the $311.8 billion California Public Employees' Retirement System, Sacramento, to buy up to five years of retirement credits to enhance their pension benefit.

In November, the California Supreme Court agreed to hear another case that also stems from the pension reform. The court agreed to consider whether an anti-spiking measure put in place to prevent an individual's pension benefits from being increased was legal.

A second California appeals court panel ruled in August in that case that the $2.1 billion Marin County Employees' Retirement Association, San Rafael, did not have to count on-call pay toward retirement benefits.

Union workers in both cases seek to affirm the so-called California rule. It has held for five decades that the pension pledged to workers at their time of employment cannot be reduced unless workers are given an equivalent benefit.

“Our main contention is that people are entitled to the retirement benefit they were promised when they became employed,” Sacramento attorney Gary M. Messing said in an interview. Mr. Messing's law firm, Messing Adam & Jasmine, represents state firefighter union Local 2281 in Sacramento. The union brought the original suit against CalPERS.

Lawyers for the state attorney general's office, which represents CalPERS, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Mr. Messing said he expects legal briefs on the case could be due to the state Supreme Court within 30 days.

The Marin County Employees' Retirement System case is moving more slowly because the state Supreme Court is awaiting an appellate ruling on another case brought by employees in Contra Costa, Alameda and Merced counties. In that case, a trial judge upheld anti-spiking provisions of the law, but also allowed some employees to count pay for on-call duties toward their pensions.