Informant targets lawyer in public pension fight

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The lawyer leading the fight to stop the state from taking back public pensions from private attorneys has just suffered a setback in his own case after a confidential informant alleged he was not a public employee and couldn't have done the work because he spent part of every year in Maui, according to court records.

James Roemer, the Albany attorney who filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Long Island attorneys and others fighting to keep their pensions, himself collects a public pension of $120,972 after retiring in 2001 from six public payrolls. But, according to papers attached to an appellate court ruling issued Thursday in Albany, the confidential informant says other people in Roemer's law firm actually did the work.

In addition, the court papers say, Roemer spent six to 12 weeks at his second home in Maui, Hawaii, every year, making it "difficult, if not impossible" for him to provide services during that time.

Citing that information, the court found that state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has the authority to investigate potential pension fraud and could subpoena Roemer's employment records. Roemer has been fighting Cuomo's subpoena.

Reached Thursday, Roemer said there was "no substance to the allegations." He added that he hasn't decided whether to try to appeal the ruling or comply with the subpoena.

Nat Swergold, the Long Island attorney who is the lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit, said the ruling would have no bearing on his case.

But Cuomo's spokesman, John Milgrim, said the ruling "confirmed what the attorney general has been saying all along: that it's wrong for lawyers and other professionals to obtain public pension credits when they're actually working as outside contractors. The excuse that it's been going on for years simply won't work anymore."

The court ruling is the latest twist in a legal saga that began with Newsday stories exposing the practice of private attorneys being reported as public employees in order to get pensions and health benefits. Cuomo and others launched investigations, resulting in scores of lawyers being removed from public payrolls.

Roemer won a legal victory earlier this year when he argued successfully that state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli failed to provide due process before revoking pensions. As a result, the comptroller's office is restoring 62 people to the state retirement system and returning roughly $1.4 million.

The comptroller will try to revoke the pensions again, but will offer hearings first, according to DiNapoli's spokesman, Dennis Tompkins.

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Settlements negotiated by Cuomo's office - now totaling about $2 million - were not affected by those earlier rulings.

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