Lawyers in PERS reform case awarded $940K in fees

Another $41,127.87 was awarded to three people who represented themselves in the lawsuit

A gavel in a U.S. courtroom. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, file)
A gavel in a U.S. courtroom. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, file)

SALEM, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The Oregon Supreme Court has awarded nearly $1 million to attorneys representing public employees in the court case that challenged certain legislative reforms to the state’s public employee retirement system.

In an opinion released Thursday, the court awarded $902,665.32 in fees and costs to Bennett, Hartman, Morris & Kaplan, LLP, a Portland law firm representing several of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, known as Moro v. Oregon.

In Moro, the Oregon Supreme Court reversed many of the Legislature’s reforms in 2015, finding that it could not make changes retroactively to the benefits accrued by public employees.

Another $41,127.87 was awarded to three people who represented themselves in the lawsuit — Michael Reynolds, George Riemer and Wayne Stanley Jones.

Reynolds and Riemer are attorneys. Riemer was previously general counsel for the Oregon State Bar, while Reynolds was previously an assistant attorney general, according to the opinion.

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State and local entities had argued against awarding the fees, according to the Oregon Supreme Court’s opinion.

The court directed the Public Employees Retirement Board to decide how to allocate the fee award from the Oregon Public Employees Retirement Fund, which contains multiple accounts, including a contingency reserve, according to the opinion.

The OPERF, as it’s called, is managed by the Oregon Treasury under the direction of the Oregon Investment Council.

PERS is still consulting with legal counsel and has not made a decision about how to allocate the fees, according to PERS. Not all PERS retirees benefited from the court’s findings in the Moro appeal.

The Public Employees Retirement Board will discuss the Oregon Supreme Court’s decision and its execution at a future meeting.

The award comes as PERS faces $22 billion in unfunded liability — essentially, money it owes retirees that it cannot pay.

Lawmakers are again attempting to pass reforms in the upcoming legislative session.

A bipartisan work group led by Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, and Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, is convening to consider the options.

In August, legislative counsel released an analysis of ten options for changes to PERS, finding seven of them were likely to fall within the requirements of the state’s constitution.