January 25, 2017 - 1:26 pm
CARSON CITY — The state retirement system must release the names and pension information of tens of thousands of retired public workers sought by a conservative policy group, a state judge ruled.
The order signed Tuesday by District Judge James Wilson gave the Public Employees Retirement System of Nevada five days to comply with the information request from Nevada Policy Research Institute.
Joseph F. Becker, chief legal officer and director of NPRI’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation, hailed the ruling.
“NPRI is delighted that the court has once again weighed in strongly on the side of transparency, and once again with respect to PERS,” Becker said in an email. “As evidenced by the recent lawsuits against the agency, the courts need to crack down on government entities, such as PERS, that thumb their noses at the Nevada Public Records Act’s requirements for disclosure.”
Chris Nielsen, PERS general counsel, said the retirement system is reviewing the order and has not decided if it will appeal.
“This was a challenging case in that it involves weighing the interests of transparency with the privacy interests of tens of thousands of PERS retirees, especially given there are specific confidentiality statutes on the books,” Nielsen said.
NPRI sought retiree information for fiscal year 2014. In 2013, the Nevada Supreme Court in a case brought by Reno Newspapers ruled that individual retiree folders were confidential but information in them was not.
PERS, in its court filings, cited Nevada administrative codes that says an agency “is not required to create a public record to satisfy” an information request.
But Wilson in his order chastised the agency for omitting another part of that sentence that says an agency “may do so at the discretion of the agency if doing so is reasonable.”
“PERS failure to indicate it was quoting only part of the sentence seems a bit deceptive,” Wilson wrote.
Following the previous Supreme Court ruling, PERS removed names of retirees from reports it sends to its actuary, according to testimony in a hearing on the NPRI petition.
“This court understood this testimony to mean PERS eliminated retiree names from the report it sends to its actuary in part because of the Reno Newspapers decision,” Wilson wrote in his order. “By eliminating retiree names from the report for the actuary, PERS can respond to requests for information that include a request for retiree names by stating no such document exists.”
Given that PERS altered its procedure “the court concludes that PERS does have a duty to create a document that contains the requested information.”
Wilson also rejected arguments from PERS that releasing the information would make retirees targets for cybercrime, calling the argument “hypothetical and speculative.”
He ordered PERS to create a document for 2014 that contains retiree names, years of service credit, gross pension benefit amount, year of retirement and last employer. Wilson also said NPRI was entitled to costs and attorney fees, but PERS can charge it for actual costs to produce the records.