By Dee DeQuattro and Steve Klamkin, WPRO News
A Superior Court judge Friday refused to recuse herself from a controversial lawsuit challenging Rhode Island's 2011 pension overhaul law, and is mulling lawyer's arguments about whether to dismiss the suit.
Superior Court Justice Sarah Taft-Carter heard arguments by lawyers representing the state and the public employee unions, and said she would 'reserve' her decision on whether to dismiss the lawsuit, not setting a date to issue a decision."
"Having considered the defendants' arguments and the plaintiffs', and having previously recognized that my mother's and my son's interests are de minimis, this Court is nonetheless satisfied that the interest of my uncle as well any other relative of the third degree is clearly de minimis, and does not require my recusal from these pension cases."
(De minimis is a legal phrase, from the Latin: lacking significance or importance : so minor as to merit disregard, according to the Merriam - Webster Dictionary.)
"This court recognizes and understands the public interest in these important cases," Taft-Carter declared from the bench. "The Court assures all of the parties that it will be and can be fair and impartial in hearing and deciding these cases.
On Thursday, the Rhode Island Supreme Court rejected a motion from the state to block Taft-Carter from presiding over the lawsuits filed against the pension overhaul law. The state said that Taft-Carter had a conflict of interest because her son is a state trooper and her mother collects her father’s pension.
The Rhode Island Retirement Security Act was approved by the General Assembly in 2011 and Governor Lincoln Chafee signed it into law. It created a hybrid retirement plan for state employees, with a reduced guaranteed pension and a 401(k) style retirement system. It also raised retirement rates and cut cost of living adjustments. The unions filed suit against the measure after it officially became law.
At the outset of the hearing, Justice Taft-Carter admitted nationally known attorney David Boies and his assistant, Julia Hamilton to the Rhode Island Bar and the case. Boies will assist the state's team, headed by Providence attorney John Tarantino. Boies said he joined the case and decided to go his full legal fee because of the widespread interest in the case.
"If we don't find a way to solve the solvency problem, citizens, people who depend on those services, and the employees themselves, are all going to be in trouble," Boies told reporters outside the courthouse. "The statue is an attempt to balance these interests, and to find a way that you can preserve pensions, you can preserve public employee jobs, and you can still have states and municipalities maintain their solvency. That's critical," Boies said.