RI pension defense lawyer: Equity and fairness ‘doesn’t matter’

December 19th, 2012 at 6:58 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Remapping Debate, a nonprofit startup news site, is out with a lengthy and skeptical article about the chances that Rhode Island – and, implicitly, Treasurer Gina Raimondo – will manage to convince the state’s judges to uphold last year’s pension law.

“We’re at an inflection point,” Paul Secunda, an associate professor at Marquette University Law School, told the website’s Mike Alberti. “We’re poised between these two possibilities: will the court uphold the contract model and find that public pensions are entitled to legal protections, or will they move back toward the gratuity model, where the legislature can change benefits on a whim?”

However, the most interesting and potentially inflammatory comments in the article may be the ones made by John Tarantino, the lawyer who is Rhode Island’s lead counsel in defense of the pension law:

When asked whether he believed it was reasonable for the workers, when they were hired, to expect and rely on the benefits that were outlined to them, however, Tarantino said, “Absolutely.”

And doesn’t that promise make the law different from other legislation that can be changed at any time?

“Listen, I take promises very seriously,” Tarantino said. “I’m a man of my word. But just because I make a promise to you, that doesn’t mean that we have a contract.”

But wouldn’t breaking that promise violate basic notions of equity and fairness?

“That stuff doesn’t matter,” Tarantino responded. “All I’m going to try to prove is that it’s legal. What’s legal isn’t necessarily fair.”

More broadly, Alberti’s article suggests that a lot may depend on whether judges agree with the General Assembly’s suggestion that Rhode Island is in such dire economic condition that paying out the pension benefits as promised is beyond what the government can pay while remaining solvent.

• Related: Study: RI pension bill ‘a good approach’ – and it may be legal (Nov. 4, 2011)

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7 Responses to “RI pension defense lawyer: Equity and fairness ‘doesn’t matter’”

  1. We're Doing God's Work says:

    Equity and fairness doesn’t matter.

    How’s that for plutocrat talk?

    Imagine a statue of lady justice peeking out from her blindfold with a sword in each hand sicking up the middle class.

    Because that’s what they want.

    Justice without fairness.

    No equity.

    No middle class.

    No future.

  2. Jason says:

    An honest interpretation of what he said would probably be, “equity and fairness are not the relevant legal questions.”

    Equity and fairness were decisions for the legislature to make. They are a matter of philosophy and policy. They are not the standard for constitutionality, and therefore, not the standard before Tarantino.

    I, personally, take the position that it’s not fair. I don’t really know what “equity” means in this context. But I also think it was necessary and legal, based on my understanding of the law.

  3. JOE SOUTH says:

    LET THE COURTS GIVE IT ALL BACK TO THE STATE WORKERS . ENJOY THE COLAS , BECAUSE IN 10 YEARS OR LESS , IT WILL ALL BLOW UP . AN UN FUNDED PENSION SYSTEM IS UNSUSTAINABLE

  4. GaryM says:

    We can’t afford to pay pensions, but we can afford to pass every spending initiative thrown our way, $300+ million of them.

    It’s too bad there weren’t more on the ballot to prove just how broke RI residents believe they really are.

  5. barry says:

    I think all should be more sympathetic to both sides, state pensioners who face broken expectations and for many, a reduced standard of living, and also for taxpayers and public officials who have no resonable way to pay for these pensions over the long term.

  6. Lucy L says:

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