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PERA faces deadline to make move in Memorial pension dispute

Published: March 6, 2014, 2:49 pm, by Jakob Rodgers
Gazette file

Gazette file

The next move in the high-stakes dispute over Memorial Hospital pension liabilities rests with lawyers for the state’s pension fund.

The Public Employees’ Retirement Association has until March 17 to respond to Colorado Springs’ motion seeking an appeal in the case, according to Adam Franklin, the pension fund’s general counsel.

The deadline highlights the unique path that Colorado Springs took in the case when it decided to contest a private judge’s ruling in February that sided with the pension fund.

Harlan Bockman, a retired Adams County judge who had been hired by each side to oversee the case, ruled on February 11 that Colorado Springs officials ignored the proper process for pulling people out of the pension fund when it leased Memorial Hospital to University of Colorado Health on Oct. 1, 2012.

Specifically, city officials never sought approval from PERA’s board and didn’t seek a vote from hospital employees before pulling them out of PERA. Most importantly, the city didn’t pay any unfunded pension liabilities to PERA, the judge said.

PERA has sought $190 million to cover those pension accounts, as well as interest. As of Oct. 28, that interest reached $15 million, and it continues to grow.

But in making his ruling, Bockman never stated a monetary amount owed by the city to PERA.

Contending that Bockman’s ruling wasn’t the final say in this case, city attorneys filed an interlocutory appeal – a type of appeal reserved for cases that have yet to be decided by a judge or jury.

For the appeal to move to the Colorado Court of Appeals, city attorneys must either get PERA or Bockman to sign off on their request. Should PERA decline to cooperate by the March 17 deadline, then Bockman could still allow the appeal to move forward.

Even if PERA or the judge signs off on the city’s request for appeal, the Court of Appeals must still accept the case.

Earlier this week, Franklin declined to say whether PERA was leaning one way or another, though he added in a follow-up statement that he was “disappointed” the city chose to fight Bockman’s ruling.

“The City continues to try and shift their financial obligation to other local governments and their employees across Colorado,” said Franklin, in his statement of the appeal. “This tactic will further delay the resolution of this matter and substantial interest will continue to accrue on the amount due to PERA.”