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Suit Alleges Retirees Lost Out in Boom

A former Ventura County employee claims that when investment earnings surged, the trust fund board should have increased benefits.

September 06, 2003|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Ventura County has been sued by a retired government employee who alleges that the county's retirement association failed to provide increased benefits even though it had excess earnings.

Retiree George Mathews argues that the retirement board should have voted to improve health and cost-of-living benefits when the retiree trust fund realized higher-than-anticipated investment earnings.

Filed in July, the suit represents the claims of Mathews and other retired members of the Ventura County Employees Retirement Assn.

The robust earnings have disappeared in recent months as a result of the downturn in the stock market. The lawsuit argues that the county and its retirement association should be required to repay that money, although a specific figure is not cited.

Ventura County pays a portion of health insurance costs for some retired employees, said John Polich, assistant county counsel. It also grants a cost-of-living increase of up to 2% annually on pension payments, he said.

Mathews' suit alleges that any surplus in the retiree trust fund should have been used to enhance those benefits. The county has not yet responded to the lawsuit.

But Polich called the allegations "a stretch."

"Even if magically that money appeared, it is not a clear-cut situation," Polich said. "The members of the retirement board have many interests to consider and they have to balance those interests."

The retirement association settled a similar lawsuit with the county earlier this year. Retirees receive an extra $27.50 each month as a result of the settlement, Polich said.

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