East Haven Mayor Loses Appeal; State Supreme Court Rules Against Double-Dipping
HARTFORD, CT — East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr.’s attempt to get the state Supreme Court to reinstate his retirement benefits as a town firefighter — while also serving full time as the town’s top elected official — has failed.
The state Supreme Court upheld, on June 30, Superior Court Judge Carl J. Schuman’s ruling that denied Maturo the ability to collect a $43,000-a-year pension that he had earned during his nearly two decades serving as a firefighter for the town of East Haven before he was elected mayor.
Schuman had dismissed Maturo’s appeal of the Connecticut State Employee Retirement Commission’s denial of his request to collect the pension while working full time in a new government job.
Maturo was challenging the fact that state retirement officials changed their rules in 2011 and imposed new pension restrictions after decades of permitting double-dipping — that is, collecting a municipal pension while in a new job on the payroll of a city or town.
In 2013, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed a bill that would have reinstated Maturo’s pension.
Maturo was a firefighter in East Haven for 18 years, from 1973 to 1991, retiring with a disability pension resulting from a back injury in October 1991.
Maturo was able to collect both his pension and his $75,000 annual mayoral salary after being elected the town’s chief executive in November 1997. He continued to collect both his pension and salary for 10 years until November 2007.
That’s when he lost the mayor’s office to Democrat April Capone. He recaptured the mayoral seat in 2011 and has held the position since. He has already announced he will be running for another term later this year.
In its ruling the Supreme Court was not persuaded by Maturo’s arguments.
Justices found the Connecticut State Employee Retirement Commission’s approach “to be more sensible.”
Maturo, on Wednesday, said he was “very disappointed in the court’s ruling.”
“Unfortunate that a person gets penalized when they elect to get involved in government to help and then get penalized by the government they serve,” Maturo said.
“I have been serving my country in different capacities since 1969. Although I was able to keep my pension the first 10 years, now the court and state government changed their mind. I still will continue to serve my town as their Mayor for as long as they want me even with the loss of my pension because it’s a job I love,” Maturo added.
In oral arguments on the appeal in March, Maturo’s lawyer, Lawrence C. Sgrignari, told the Supreme Court that the mayor found it “particularly distressing” that he received a letter from the state informing him his pension benefits were being cut off “two days after his 2011 inauguration.”
Sgrignari told the justices the retirement rules were “changed on a whim” and that Maturo, a Republican, was picked on because he was in a high-profile position as the chief elected official of a municipality.
“We are obviously disappointed with the court’s decision, but respect the opinion as the final word on the issue,” Sgrignari said Wednesday. “It is important to note that as a result of our appeal, the (Retirement) Commission changed its policies and is now applying the new interpretation of the return to work rules equally to all other similarly situated retirees.”
A lawyer for the retirement board, Michael Rose, defended the Superior Court ruling during arguments before the Supreme Court and disagreed with Sgrignari’s interpretation.
“While the initial law permitted retirees (including disabled retirees) who resumed employment with the state or municipality to continue to receive a retirement benefit if they were employed by the same department or agency, the legislature eliminated that carve-out in 1987, and prohibited a retiree (disabled or regular) from obtaining a benefit if he or she accepts employment from the same municipality or any other participating municipality,” Rose wrote in his Supreme Court brief. “Accordingly, he may not collect a disability pension for prior service in East Haven while actively employed by the same town.”
During the appeal hearing, Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers asked Sgrignari why an East Haven taxpayer wouldn’t be bothered that Maturo is double-dipping.
“Why wouldn’t his pension be suspended until he is no longer working?” Chase asked Sgrignari.
Sgrignari said, first, Maturo was previously able to collect the pension until the retirement provision was changed. Secondly, he told the judge, he is not eligible to receive pension benefits in his current position as mayor of East Haven.
Sgrignari noted that state Attorney General George Jepsen has issued an opinion saying that retirement officials should return to their prior 2011 interpretation of the municipal pension law.
But Rose had a different interpretation.
“If you return to the same employer it is plain that he is an employee and you can’t get a salary at the same time you are getting a pension.”
Rose also rejected Sgrignari’s contention that Maturo was singled out.
“I see no evidence that politics played a role in this,” Rose said.