Senior Judge Martha Christian on Thursday, March 1, allowed the attorneys in an estimated $75 million class-action Hall County pension lawsuit to proceed with taking depositions from the county officials involved in the decision.
About 70-80 current or retired Hall employees involved in the lawsuit packed the Hall County Superior Court courtroom Thursday. The courtroom was at full capacity through two hours of testimony and questions.
The class is made up of more than 100 current and retired Hall County employees.
The change regarding the county pension plan happened in 1998, when the plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Kramer claimed the county “froze plaintiffs’ accrued pension benefits and failed to make the required annual employer contributions to plaintiffs’ individual retirement accounts.”
“The county lawfully amended that pension plan on Feb. 25, 1998, in a board of commission meeting, and we can go through the minutes of the documents which prove that in an undisputed way,” Hall County’s attorney, Ben Mathis, told the judge.
The county allowed employees who were within 10 years of retirement to retire under the previous benefit plan, Mathis said. From 1998 to 2008, 181 employees were grandfathered in and allowed to accrue all of their years of service.
“That’s frankly all the class of plaintiffs that I represent, first responders and court personnel — they want that same opportunity, which I think is a valid remedy, to be included in, that they be allowed … to put all of their defined contribution plan monies in. So not everybody was treated the same, which is our equal protection argument,” Kramer said.
The Association County Commissioners of Georgia’s attorneys argued they are the sponsor of the plan but have no obligation to “police the county’s contributions or their amendments.”
Christian said she would allow for “very limited discovery” pertaining to the meetings and the resolutions regarding this change in the county’s benefit plan.
That would include depositions from former Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Al Gainey, former county administrator Reggie Forrester and other commission members.
The commission in 1998 included Gainey, Jerry Carpenter, Jimmy Echols, Frances Meadows and Dennis Pitts.
Kramer estimated needing four months to complete discovery.
“This is what we wanted was to go ahead with discovery and these are the people we want to take depositions from. We’re all very pleased with the ruling,” he said.