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Baltimore County loses appeal in police retiree case

An appeals court has rejected a bid by the Baltimore County government to avoid reimbursing hundreds of police retirees who were overcharged for health insurance.

The county paid more than $1.7 million in damages and interest to the Fraternal Order of Police this year under a court order. But it continued to appeal the order.

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In a ruling issued Wednesday, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals — the state's second-highest court — upheld the lower-court ruling.

The county could appeal again, and officials with the Fraternal Order of Police said that uncertainty means the money hasn't been distributed to retirees. The union is holding the cash until all potential appeals are exhausted.

"Our retirees have been patient, but it's a frustrating experience for them to have to go through," said Cole Weston, president of FOP Lodge 4.

The case has bounced around the court system since 2007, when the county moved to set the amount that police retirees pay for health insurance at a standard rate of 20 percent.

Retirees, who had been paying different rates depending on when they retired, said this amounted to an improper increase. The case affects more than 400 officers who retired between 1992 and 2007.

In 2013, a circuit judge ordered the county to change the insurance rates and repay retirees who were overcharged.

When the county made no move to pay, the police union asked a judge to hold County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and other top officials in contempt.

Kamenetz administration officials called the move a publicity stunt, but relented and paid the money in May and June.

The county says all retirees should pay the same for health insurance.

"We believe that everyone should pay the same percentage toward health care, regardless of what department they worked, or whenever they retired," Don Mohler, Kamenetz's chief of staff, said in a statement. "This case allows a very select group of police retirees ... to pay less than all other retirees."

The Court of Special Appeals rejected the county's arguments that the award was not enforceable, that retirees had not objected in a timely manner in 2007, that the union had not been harmed by the insurance decision, and technical arguments over how the award was calculated.

Mohler said the county's lawyers are reviewing the ruling.

Weston said the union would wait to see whether the county appeals the ruling to Maryland's highest court, the Court of Appeals. He said he hopes the county does not appeal so that the refunds can be paid to retirees.

Some retirees have died while waiting for the case to be resolved, he said.

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"There are certain rights to levels of appeal and levels of review," Weston said. "But this has clearly gone way past that."

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