Originally published January 25, 2010 at 11:15 a.m., updated January 25, 2010 at 3:06 p.m.
The California Supreme Court has tossed out charges against five of the six former members of San Diego's troubled pension board accused of casting votes that benefited them personally.
The California Supreme Court has ruled in a case at the heart of the City of San Diego’s pension crisis. The judges ruled that five of six city employees accused of conflict of interest are not guilty.
The ruling defuses the notion that the city’s pension crisis was the result of criminal conflict of interest on the part of several employees who were also retirement board members. The defendants voted in favor of allowing the city to underfund the pension plan while increasing guaranteed benefits.
Cathy Lexin, Mary Vatimo, Terry Webster, Sharon Wilkinson and John Torres are now cleared of conflict of interest.
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith says if the Supreme Court had interpreted the state’s conflict of interest laws more broadly, it would have made it difficult for government to operate, since managers and board members often make decisions that affect themselves.
"They said public officials can participate in a decision that affects employees generally, that's not illegal," Goldsmith said. "But when it affects them individually, that’s a crime."
The Supreme Court ruling says the sixth defendant, Ron Saathoff could have gained a special benefit for himself. His case continues to trial.