Unions, retirees ask state Supreme Court to delay pension trial after lower court refuses


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NEWPORT, Rhode Island — The public-sector unions and retirees suing the state over the 2011 overhaul of Rhode Island's public pension system asked the state Supreme Court on Friday to delay the trial after a lower court refused.

The plaintiffs' lawyers want the court to intervene to postpone the April 20 trial date. Their motion states it's "simply not possible" to complete the discovery process and conduct meaningful depositions in time.

Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter ruled earlier in the day that all parties have had enough time to prepare for the trial.

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

The plaintiffs agreed to a delay but didn't all support the timeline the state suggested. They're now asking the court to set aside the current trial date and schedule a status conference for early April.

In a brief hearing Friday morning in Newport Superior Court, Taft-Carter told them 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.

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