CHARLESTON - Kanawha Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib, Jr. decided Monday to delay the merger of two state teacher retirement plans until a lawsuit filed by those opposed to the merger is settled.
Zakaib heard the arguments of Charleston attorney and former Gubernatorial candidate Jim Lees on behalf of the petitioners, and Anne Lambright, legal counsel for the West Virginia Consolidated Public Retirement Board, opposed no objection to the Injunctive Relief during a 12-minute hearing.
Arguments for both sides will next be heard at 1 p.m. on July 26.
"I was real pleased that the State agreed and the Board is right," said Lees, who is currently running for the state Senate. "If we don't halt the merger and I prevail, later it's going to cause a bookkeeping nightmare."
In an April vote organized by the state Legislature, teachers were told to choose between an old retirement system - a defined benefits plan - where retirement funds were provided and managed by the state and the newer system - a defined contribution plan - where retirement funds were contributed by the state and managed by the individual.
A vote of about 12,700 of nearly 23,000 eligible voters determined the older system would be put back into place, thanks to a majority vote of 62 percent.
In a Petition for Declaratory Judgment filed April 13 in Kanawha Circuit Court, nearly 3,000 teachers and service personnel attached their names to the case, which lists Anthony Barbario and Richard Goff as the main petitioners.
Switching retirement systems twice in a span of a few months would cause chaos with each individual's retirement plans, Lees argued.
Lambright admitted during her statement that the WVCPRB - the agency given the task of organizing the merger - has a lot to handle between now and a July 1 deadline and saw no cons to having that deadline being pushed back.
"Although my client would very much like to proceed … the Board recognizes this could become an accounting nightmare if the clients prevail in this matter," Lambright said.
Zakaib agreed and noted that the lawsuit raises serious questions.
Lees is arguing that the state Legislature should have voted on the plans instead of drawing up legislation to be voted on by a certain group of citizens.
He also says asking those who benefited from the defined contribution plan to put their retirement fund into a giant fund to be divided equally among the teachers and service personnel is the equivalent of taking money.
After the July 26 decision, Lees said a Supreme Court judge will have to review the case, too.
"Maybe we'll have some finality to this by the fall," he said.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number 06-C-687