Moorlach Wants to Circumvent Court Process

Much has been written about the pursuit of public sector retirement payroll information by the media and so-called taxpayer advocacy groups. Throughout the State some retirement systems have said no to such requests. Some of those have been sued in the local County Superior Court and lost and then released the payroll information. The media then publishes the names and annual income of every retiree receiving six figures or more.

Given the rulings in the lawsuits that have occurred, why wouldn’t a public sector retirement system receiving such a request, such as the Orange County Employees Retirement System (OCERS), simply agree to provide payroll information when requested? I know of two reasons – First, a decision in a Superior Court is applicable only in that county, it does not apply on a state-wide basis. So, the decisions so far are county by county. Second, there is a State law that says the records of county retirees are confidential. So, if a retirement system released the requested information on its own that system could be vulnerable to lawsuits by retirees seeking damages for the release of their information. A court decision ordering the release would protect the retirement system from that possible liability.

The fact that OCERS refused to release the payroll information resulted in the predictable lawsuit. The suit was brought by the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, identified in an Orange County Register article as a pension reform group. The Register has filed a declaration of support of the lawsuit with the Court, and reported on May 9 (“Judge considers limiting pension information”) that Orange County Superior Court Judge Luis Rodriguez is hearing the case, and that he has asked some questions that have alarmed the Register and the Foundation because they seem to indicate the Judge might not give the plaintiff all it wants.

According to the Register article the judge seemed to pose the possibility of releasing the payroll but without the names of each individual (information that is already available to the public on the OCERS web site) or releasing it to the plaintiff but placing a gag order on it. This would allow them to use the information for analysis but not for publicity.

Not unexpectedly, these possibilities did not sit well with the Foundation and their allies. Everyone is awaiting a decision by the Judge. But, now enter Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach. He has led the charge on the Board to try and reign in the costs of the County retirement system by various means, including publicity, at least one lawsuit and hard bargaining at the union negotiation table.

I am told that with the Orange County Superior Court case pending, but with a Judge apparently telegraphing the possibility that the plaintiff will not get everything it wants, Moorlach at this past Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting proposed that the Board order the OCERS to release the payroll information. This smacks of an attempted end run around the court process to thwart a ruling that might be less than a full victory for the plaintiff.   So much for due process.

State law requires that elected bodies take action only on items that were formally on their posted agenda, and this Moorlach proposal was not on the agenda. So, I am told that no action was taken other than to put it on the Supervisors’ agenda for their next meeting, June 1. Not only does this seem to be an attempted end run to thwart the Court process, if the Board votes to approve Moorlach’s idea it raises a jurisdiction conundrum – just who is in charge of the OCERS retirement system, the OCERS Board of Directors or the Board of Supervisors? And if the Supervisors approve does this open up the County to lawsuits from retirees claiming invasion of privacy damages? Stay tuned.

About Over But Not Out

A retired Orange County employee, and moderate Republican. The editor seriously does not know OBNO's identity as did not the former editor, but his point of view is obviously interesting and valued.