Interest payments total $228,000 in Baltimore County-FOP dispute

A nearly $1.7 million payment from Baltimore County to the police union to resolve a battle over retiree health care costs included about $228,000 in interest accrued while the county fought court orders in the case.

The county wrote a check last week to the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4 to reimburse more than 400 retirees who the state’s highest court determined were overcharged for health insurance premiums.

The dispute began seven years ago, eventually reaching the Maryland Court of Appeals in 2012. The court sided with the union, but the county refused to pay, and interest on the judgment amount was added to the final tally.

FOP President Cole Weston said the county could have avoided some of those costs.

“This has been in litigation for a long time, and there’s been plenty of opportunities to settle this case along the way,” Weston said.

The county relented after Circuit Judge Michael J. Finifter ordered officials, including County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, to appear in court June 26 to explain why they hadn’t followed the ruling, under threat of contempt of court charges and possible jail time.

That threat “created severe anxiety and personal distress for those officials and their families,” wrote Assistant County Attorney James J. Nolan Jr. in court documents submitted Friday. Nolan wrote that the payment is “solely the result of the coercion and duress” over the jail threat.

“As a body politic and corporate, Baltimore County could not let this occur to its dedicated officials,” Nolan wrote.

County officials have asked the judge to cancel the June 26 hearing. Finifter has not yet ruled.

Don Mohler, Kamenetz’s chief of staff, declined to comment on the newly filed court papers.

The county is appealing recent rulings in the case to the Court of Special Appeals, so Weston said the union will hold the money in an escrow account until litigation is over.

The case centered on what portion of the retirees’ health care insurance the county subsidizes. The money in the judgment is for officers who retired between 1992 and 2007, when more health care costs were shifted to the retired employees. The amount each retiree will get ranges from about $500 to $5,200, depending on their age and insurance plan, Weston said.

County officials say they have increased the subsidies for the future, as ordered by the court.

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