Judge says she won't postpone April trial date in Rhode Island's pension overhaul lawsuit

Associated Press

The judge hearing a challenge to Rhode Island's 2011 overhaul of its public pension system said Friday that she won't postpone the trial date.

The state's lawyers had requested a continuance to complete written discovery, take depositions, submit motions and prepare for trial. They wanted to start the trial Jan. 25, 2016, instead of April 20.

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Lawyers for the public-sector unions and retirees suing the state agreed to a delay but didn't all support the timeline the state suggested.

In a brief hearing in Newport Superior Court, Judge Sarah Taft-Carter told them they have had sufficient time to prepare.

Taft-Carter said she has already granted one continuance and the April 20 trial date is "firm."

Attorney John Tarantino, who represents the state, said afterward that he'll be ready. He said the trial could take months because of the complexity of the case.

"I understand that the judge wants to get the case tried," he said.

The plaintiffs' attorneys didn't comment on the ruling.

The lawsuit is challenging higher retirement ages and cuts to cost-of-living increases that were designed to save Rhode Island $4 billion over 20 years. It has been used as a model for other states as they change their own pension systems to deal with soaring costs.

The state had agreed to a tentative settlement last year with unions and retirees that pulled back on some of the changes but preserved most of the overhaul. However, the settlement had to be approved by six groups of plaintiffs, and it ultimately was rejected after police union members voted it down.

Mediation failed, Taft-Carter said, and "now it's time to try the case." The trial, which will be decided by a jury, will take place in Providence.

The parties return to court March 6 for pretrial motions.