The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

February 26, 2014

Retiree groups want pension lawsuits consolidated

SPRINGFIELD — Efforts are underway to consolidate four lawsuits challenging Illinois’ new pension reform law, a move that could ultimately impact how the Legislature chooses to act on other underfunded municipal retirement systems around the state.

In recent weeks, lawyers for the four groups of state retirees that filed class-action lawsuits have asked the state Supreme Court to allow them to present their cases as one.

Their motions follow a January request by the Illinois attorney general to consolidate the cases for the purposes of “just and efficient conduct.”

All four lawsuits share the common claim that the pension reform plan, passed in December, violates the state constitution, which says benefits may “not be diminished or impaired.”

Because three of the cases were filed in Sangamon County Court and another in Cook County Circuit Court, the Illinois Supreme Court must choose a court in which to hear the case if the consolidation motion is granted.

John Myers, a Springfield-based attorney who represents the Retired State Employees Association in its lawsuit filed in January, told The Associated Press he feels there could be less of a bottleneck if the cases are consolidated in central Illinois’ Sangamon County versus the more populous Cook County.

“The Sangamon County Courts typically are quicker than Cook County. That’s the way it is,” Myers said.

While Myers said there isn’t a strategic advantage to consolidating the cases, he noted “consolidation does simplify things procedurally and avoids the risk of conflicting court decisions.”

The Legislature passed a measure to fix the worst-in-the-nation pension crisis during a special session at the end of 2013.

The state’s five public-retirement systems were $100 billion short of what was needed to meet the state’s obligations to workers and retirees at that time due to decades of lawmakers skipping or shorting payments to the systems, which siphoned away money from schools and social services.

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