A state district judge on Tuesday threw out a last-minute retirement hike lawmakers gave to the state police superintendent, ending a political firestorm over a pension boost passed without public scrutiny on the last day of the legislative session.
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A state district judge on Tuesday threw out a last-minute retirement hike lawmakers gave to the state police superintendent, ending a political firestorm over a pension boost passed without public scrutiny on the last day of the legislative session.
Judge Janice Clark ruled that the Louisiana Legislature didn‘t follow proper procedure in approving the enhanced benefits for Col. Mike Edmonson and a 32-year trooper in Houma. She said the pension change "is unconstitutional on its face."
Both Edmonson and the trooper had said they wouldn‘t accept the increased retirement benefit, but critics of the legislation wanted it voided so the two men couldn‘t change their minds later.
After the hearing, Edmonson said he was grateful for the judge‘s decision.
"I just hate this thing drew out so long," he said. "I had no intention of taking it."
The change, which carried a $359,000 price tag, drew strong reproach as a backroom deal for a political insider. Lawmakers said they didn‘t realize the retirement provision had been included in the bill, and no one defended the law in court.
Lawyers for Gov. Bobby Jindal, Edmonson, the state police retirement system and Treasurer John Kennedy supported the judge‘s decision.
"I‘m pleased with the court‘s ruling," said Kennedy, an outspoken critic of the legislation. "It‘s null and void. I think this is a win for the retirees. I think it‘s a win for the active troopers. And I think it‘s a win for the taxpayers."
Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, filed the lawsuit challenging the pension hike. He has said he was embarrassed to acknowledge that he didn‘t realize the pension increase was slipped into the bill when he voted for it in June.
His lawyer, Jack Whitehead, told the judge the retirement boost was improperly added to a bill dealing with the rights of law enforcement officers under investigation, violating a constitutional provision that requires legislation to have one object.
"What does a police officer under investigation being given certain rights have to do with retirement? It‘s just common sense. It does not," Whitehead said.
Clark didn‘t throw out the provision of the bill dealing with police investigations.
Much of the hour-long hearing involved working out the paperwork among lawyers to get the court record straight, since no one was arguing that the law should be deemed constitutional.
The change would have allowed Edmonson to sidestep a previous decision, made under now-repealed rules, that froze his retirement benefits at a lower level of employment. Edmonson said the change would have let him take home $23,000 more a year in pension pay.
Edmonson said his staff sought the retirement change for him. After the criticism erupted, he said he realized it was improperly handled. He said he didn‘t intend to ask the Legislature to revisit the issue next year.
"I think my staff meant well. I really do," Edmonson said Tuesday. "But I think rushing it at the last part of the session was just a mistake."