Both sides appear in court in fight over insurance subsidies
By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun
8:09 PM EDT, October 15, 2013
The Baltimore County police union says the county now owes hundreds of retired officers nearly $1.6 million in health insurance refunds — about $1 million more than previously estimated.
The new figures surfaced Tuesday at a Baltimore County Circuit Court hearing in a long-running dispute between the county and the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4 over how much the county pays for the health insurance premiums of about 400 officers who retired between 1992 and 2007.
According to court filings by the police union, an earlier estimate – about $573,000 — did not include the total amount owed to the retirees through the present time. The county also owes nearly $360,000 in interest, the union contends.
The $573,000 figure was based on estimates prepared by the county two years ago as part of talks about a potential settlement in cases involving the union. But James Nolan, an attorney for the county, told Judge Michael J. Finifter that the county disputes the information in the document and believes it was inadmissible in court.
The case dates back to a 2008 arbitration decision, which followed a grievance filed by the union. The union claimed the county violated a memorandum of understanding when it shifted additional health care costs to retirees. The case made its way to the Maryland Court of Appeals, which ruled in favor of the union last year.
In August, Finifter ordered the county to reimburse the retirees, but it hasn’t done so. On Tuesday, Finifter heard county arguments about why he should change his earlier order.
Nolan claimed the courts never gave a fair hearing to a number of issues raised by the county. Among its arguments are that the original arbitrator did not have jurisdiction over the initial grievance; and that it’s unconstitutional for the court to order the county to appropriate money from its budget to pay the refunds.
Matthew Clash-Drexler, an attorney for the union, said it’s time for the case to come to an end. Otherwise, he said, the cost to the county will grow.
“The arbitrator, and now the courts, have ruled that this case is over on the merits, that there is nothing left to be resolved,” he told Finifter. “Every single month, the amount of damage caused by the county’s breach continues to grow.”
County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said after the hearing that the county does not agree with the $1.6 million figure, though it has not calculated its own estimates.
“We have no idea where the FOP is getting these figures,” Kobler said. “There’s been no computation of these potential costs because we expect to prevail in court.”
Finifter did not rule Tuesday but questioned why the county has not complied with court decisions.
“I understand you disagree wholeheartedly with the Court of Appeals, but they are the Court of Appeals, and it is Maryland’s highest court,” the judge said to the county’s lawyers. “So why does the county feel that they don’t have to comply with Maryland’s highest court?”
Finifter said he would issue a written ruling but did not say when.
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