BMC Judge Reinstates Tom Finneran’s Pension Benefits
In a fairly surprising turn of events, on October 9, 2015, the Honorable Serge Georges of the Dorchester Division of the Boston Municipal Court ordered the State Retirement Board to pay former Speaker of the House Tom Finneran what the media has reported to be hundreds of thousands of dollars in pension benefits retroactive to January of 2007 and activate his benefits prospectively.
Previously, the State Retirement Board had ceased to pay Mr. Finneran his M.G.L. c. 32 superannuation benefits. According to the decision, this occurred after Mr. Finneran pled guilty to willfully making misleading and false statements under oath while testifying in his capacity as Speaker in Federal Court regarding a voting rights action that challenged election redistricting at the start of the century.
The State Retirement Board had ruled that this conduct violated M.G.L. c. 32 § 15(4) which states:
(4) Forfeiture of pension upon misconduct. In no event shall any member after final conviction of a criminal offense involving violation of the laws applicable to his office or position, be entitled to receive a retirement allowance under the provisions of section one to twenty-eight, inclusive, nor shall any beneficiary be entitled to receive any benefits under such provisions on account of such member. The said member or his beneficiary shall receive, unless otherwise prohibited by law, a return of his accumulated total deductions; provided, however, that the rate of regular interest for the purpose of calculating accumulated total deductions shall be zero.
In applying this statute and applicable case law to Mr. Finneran’s guilty plea, Judge Georges stated in summary that:
Turning to the issue whether the Board’s decision that Finneran must forfeit his pension is legally tenable, I conclude that it is not. Although the record indicates that Finneran’s conviction referenced his public employment, inasmuch as the position Finneran held at the time of his perjured testimony and at all times relevant thereto, there is no substantial evidence to support the Board’s conclusion that Finneran’s conviction bore a direct factual link to his position as a House member and/or Speaker. Additionally, there is also no substantial evidence to support the Board’s conclusion that Finneran’s conviction violated a core function of his position as a House member and/or Speaker because there is no evidence in the record of any code, rule or law applicable to Finneran’s public position that connects his conviction to his office. Accordingly, the Boards decision must be reversed.
The State Retirement Board has appealed the decision. Given the profile of the case and the malleable language of the statute, it is likely that higher courts will be keenly interested. For those interested in a broader explanation, please find the BMC decision below or feel free to send me an e-mail.
Read the decision here.