By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun
7:41 PM EDT, August 20, 2013
A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge has ordered the county to refund nearly $573,000 in health insurance premiums that had been overpaid by hundreds of Police Department retirees, following years of litigation between the county and the police union.
Under the order by Judge Michael J. Finifter released this month, the county has 20 days to reimburse the retirees. The county owes the money, plus interest, to more than 400 people who retired between 1992 and 2007.
"We're very pleased," said David Rose, second vice president of Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4. "It's the right thing to do for the retirees."
But officials with County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's administration would not say Tuesday whether they planned to pay up or ignore the ruling.
"The county is considering its options for fighting this further in court," county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said.
The dispute dates back to an arbitration decision from 2008. The arbitrator agreed with the union that the county had violated a memorandum of understanding when, in 2007, it shifted more health care costs to police officers who had retired between 1992 and 2007.
A series of legal actions between the county and police union ensued, with the matter eventually reaching the state's highest court. The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the union last November.
This month's court order is a result of legal action the union took in April, when it said the county was ignoring the appeals court ruling.
In a statement to The Baltimore Sun on Tuesday, county officials said the county "strongly disagrees with this decision," saying the cost shift was negotiated by the county's health care review committee, which is made up of labor representatives and others.
"In other words, the FOP is reneging on a deal negotiated by its own representative," officials said.
The county also contends that the court can't force the county to pay the settlement.
"The only real remedy for the FOP is to have the County Council appropriate money," they said. "No court has the authority to require that."
In his order, Finifter said the county's arguments had been addressed in previous litigation. "As such, the Court does not find it necessary to delve into the merits of these arguments," the judge wrote.
The county has been involved in a number of legal disputes over benefits and other employments issues. Last month, it reached a $143,0000 settlement in a discrimination lawsuit by a 71-year-old laborer in the public works department who claimed the county had illegally forced him to retire. That settlement followed three similar ones totaling more than $1 million in May.
In October 2012, a federal judge found the county pension system discriminates against beneficiaries based on age. Also last year, the county settled a federal Department of Justice lawsuit for $500,000. The lawsuit alleged that the county had a pattern of discrimination, mostly on the basis of medical conditions.
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