Conflict-of-interest charges against five former trustees of the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System were dropped today by the California Supreme Court.
Cathy Lexin, Mary Elizabeth Vattimo, Teresa Aja Webster, Sharon Kay Wilkinson, John Anthony Torres and Ronald Lee Saathoff had faced felony charges, accused of conflict of interest for voting to allow the city to limit plan funding in exchange for increased pension benefits for city employees.
The court set aside the charges for all of the defendants except Mr. Saathoff, ruling that the other five trustees did not have divided loyalties between public interest and their own self interest because they were also members of the retirement system.
The court held that Mr. Saathoff, a fire safety captain and president of the firefighters’ union, could be suspected of having “a unique, personalized pension benefit” because the pension fund deal resulted in his pension being based on his union president salary and his city salary.
Officials at the $4.3 billion system could not be immediately reached for comment.
In a prepared statement, San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith called the ruling “a well-reasoned opinion” that settled questions concerning California’s criminal conflict of interest law, which, under one broad interpretation, could have barred city councils from negotiating labor contracts or setting benefit levels.
“Local government officials may participate in decisions as long as they do not specially benefit,” he stated.