The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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June 22, 2012

Joplin pension fund lawsuit to be decided in Jasper County Circuit Court

Hearing set for July 2

It appears that a lawsuit over the calculation for disability pay from the Joplin Police and Firemen’s Pension Fund will go to a judge to decide.

The two sides of the dispute have filed competing motions for summary judgment. A hearing on those motions is set for July 2 in Jasper County Circuit Court, and a ruling on them would decide the case without a trial.

A summary judgment is a decision by a judge based on facts and arguments submitted by the parties.

The pension board met in closed session on Friday with its attorney in the case, Karl Blanchard.

After the meeting, Blanchard said that at this point it appears the case will go forward on the July 2 court date for a judgment.

The lawsuit was filed by disabled firefighter Tom Robertson, who seeks a judicial ruling regarding the city’s reduction of his disability payments. Robertson suffers from a lung disease caused by smoke inhalation.

Robertson thought he would be entitled to half the average pay he earned when he worked, or about $1,900 a month. But his disability pay was reduced because he had not reached 20 years of service, which is the threshold for retirement. The city calculated his benefit at 37.5 percent of his average pay instead of 50 percent, making his monthly payment about $1,400.

The pension board has been told that under revisions in 1993 that allowed retirement at 20 years from the police and fire departments, disability pay was reduced by the number of years served less than 20. Robertson served 15 years and 11 months.

Robertson earlier this year appealed to the board to reverse the city’s calculation, but the board declined by a majority vote. Robertson’s attorney, Dan Tobben, of St. Louis, discussed the issue with the board to try to get it to reverse its decision before a lawsuit was filed. He contended that those covered by the plan did not authorize any changes to the plan that reduced disability benefits when they voted to change the plan to allow the 20-year retirement.

Joplin’s fire and police departments have taken opposite stances on the issue.

Members of the International Association of Firefighters Local 2618 have joined the lawsuit, which represents Joplin firefighters. The local affiliated with the AFL-CIO, IAFF members do not engage in collective bargaining and cannot strike under state law, but are eligible for other union benefits.

After that action, members of the Southwest Missouri Regional Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge No. 27, voted to support the position of the board and the city.

Local court

Judge David Mouton will hear the case in Division No. 3 of Jasper County Circuit Court at Joplin.

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