EAST HAVEN, CT – The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr.’s appeal of a Superior Court judge’s 2016 ruling that he could not collect retirement benefits from the town as a firefighter while serving as its top elected official at the same time.
Maturo’s appeal is on the Connecticut Supreme Court docket.
The Supreme Court is slated for oral argument – possibly as soon as March 27, depending on the court’s scheduling calendar which will be released on March 6.
If it doesn’t make the March 27 argument schedule of the Supreme Court, it would likely be on the next session of the court the following month, a clerk in the court’s office said Tuesday.
Maturo is appealing Superior Court Judge Carl J. Shuman’s year-old ruling denying him the ability to collect a $43,000 a year pension he earned during his close to two decades serving as a firefighter for the town of East Haven before he was elected mayor.
Schuman dismissed Maturo’s appeal of the Connecticut State Employee Retirement Commission’s denial of his request to collect a pension, based on past municipal service, while working full time in a new municipal government job.
Maturo was challenging the fact that state retirement officials changed their rules in 2011 and imposed new pension restrictions after decades of permitting double-dipping – that is, collecting a municipal pension while in a new job on the payroll of a city or town.
In 2013, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed a bill that would have reinstated Maturo’s pension.
Maturo was a firefighter in East Haven for 18 years, from 1973 to 1991, retiring with a disability pension resulting from a back injury in October of 1991.
Maturo was able to collect both his pension and his $75,000 annual mayoral salary after being elected the town’s chief executive in November 1997. He continued to collect both his pension and salary for 10 years, until November 2007. That’s when he lost the mayor’s office to Democrat April Capone.
He recaptured the mayoral seat in 2011 and has held the position since. He has already announced he will be running for another term later this year.
The mayor’s lawyer, Lawrence C. Sgrignari, argues in his brief to the Supreme Court: “The Trial Court erred in affirming the decision of the Commission which concluded that reemployment provisions of the Municipal Employees Retirement System (MERS) preclude a MERS retiree who retired on a disability pension to continue to receive pension benefits while reemployed in a non MERS position of a municipality, which participates in MERS, and similar, erred in concluding that the plaintiff, an elected official serving a term of office in a non MERS position of municipality which participates in MERS, is a member of MERS pursuant to General Statutes.”
Sgrignari further argues that the “plaintiff (Maturo) maintains there is not substantial evidence in the record to support the decision of the defendant Commission in denying the plaintiff’s request to reverse the decision of the Retirement Services Division to suspend the plaintiff’s service connected disability pension benefits during a plaintiff’s term of office as Mayor of East Haven.”
A lawyer for the retirement board, Michael Rose, defended the Superior Court ruling and disagreed with Sgrignari’s interpretation.
“While the initial law permitted retirees (including disabled retirees) who resumed employment with the state or municipality to continue to receive a retirement benefit if they were employed by the same department or agency, the legislature eliminated that carve-out in 1987, and prohibited a retiree (disabled or regular) from obtaining a benefit if he or she accepts employment from the same municipality or any other participating municipality,” Ross wrote in his Supreme Court brief.
“Accordingly, he may not collect a disability pension for prior service in East Haven while actively employed by the same town.”
Sgrignari noted that state Attorney General George Jepsen has issued an opinion saying that retirement officials should return to their prior 2011 interpretation of the MERS pension law.
Asked Monday, Maturo said he is happy about the Supreme Court hearing his appeal.
“I hope the court will follow the recommendation of the Attorney General to the retirement commission, as that is the most appropriate manner to effect a change in the interpretation in any long established procedure,” Maturo said.