SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

October 4, 2012

Lawyer: Penalty too severe

Former lieutenant's loss of pension an 'excessive fine,' his attorney says

(Continued)

To this day, “We still don’t know if Mr. Bettencourt got any benefit,” said Judith Corrigan, assistant general counsel to the Public Employees Retirement Administration Commission (PERAC), during a hearing yesterday in Peabody District Court.

Bettencourt’s conviction resulted in a fine of $10,500, which has been stayed while he appeals.

While the Peabody Retirement Board went on to approve his $70,000-a-year pension, PERAC overruled that decision, touching off a lengthy legal battle over whether a state law barring the payout of pensions for public employees convicted of official misconduct applied in Bettencourt’s case.

A Peabody District Court judge (who is now retired) and a Suffolk Superior Court judge both decided that the misconduct was not directly related to Bettencourt’s duties and ordered the pension reinstated.

But earlier this year, the state Appeals Court disagreed, finding that the crimes were, in fact, related to Bettencourt’s duties.

The Appeals Court, however, sent the case back to Peabody District Court to be reconsidered on the issue of whether a pension forfeiture amounts to an excessive penalty, an issue Bettencourt and his lawyer had also argued four years ago but was never addressed by a judge.

Hynes, representing Bettencourt, argued it was “grossly disproportionate to the offense.”

Hynes suggested that PERAC failed to consider the severity of other cases, comparing Bettencourt’s misconduct with that of a former state senator, William “Biff” MacLean, convicted of various corruption charges, and with a former Quincy plumbing inspector convicted of breaking into City Hall to steal negative reports from his personnel file as he sought a promotion.

“So, it’s a sliding scale, is that what you’re telling me?” Nestor shot back. The judge also questioned whether Hynes was asking him to delve back into the issue of whether Bettencourt’s actions were work-related.

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