Presumably in response to some well-publicized reports of public employees fired for official misconduct and walking away with generous pension benefits, the Connecticut Legislature passed a decade ago a statute authorizing pension reduction or revocation in such circumstances. Although the law has been utilized in a few situations since then, two recent cases demonstrate that pension rescissions are far from automatic, even where the misconduct is clear.

Last week a Superior Court judge decided not to reduce or revoke the pension of a public school superintendent who overstated mileage reimbursements request by $48,000 over four years and was convicted of larceny. The reasons were (a) the money had been repaid, (b) the superintendent had served jail time, (c) he was a military veteran, (d) he had an exemplary record for 30 years before the offense, and (e) unfortunate family circumstances may have led to the misconduct.

The judge relied heavily on the reasoning in a similar case from last year, which coincidentally involved another school superintendent. She also had overstated mileage reimbursement requests, and had charged personal expenses to a school district credit card. As in the more recent case, the school district had been reimbursed, and the superintendent had an exemplary record for many years before the misconduct. Also, the amounts involved were relatively modest, totaling around $6,000. Her pension was left intact.

The statute involved in these cases is an exception to the general rule that vested pension benefits, once earned, cannot be taken away. It makes sense that the law is applied with some flexibility, so that distinctions can be drawn between public employees who engage in a pattern of serious misconduct over time, and those whose transgressions are more limited.