Oral Arguments by Pension Funds and Unions Pushed Back in Detroit Bankruptcy Hearing

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When Detroit first raised the issue of cutting pension benefits for the city’s workers, unions and pension funds balked at the idea.

So when a Detroit bankruptcy court ruled that the city could indeed cut pension benefits as part of bankruptcy proceedings, several parties immediately filed appeals, including two public employee unions and one pension fund. They wanted their day in court; a chance to stand in front of a judge and make their arguments face-to-face.

That day was supposed to be Wednesday. But there will be no appeals heard that day, as the Appeals Court in question has postponed the oral arguments that were previously scheduled to be given by the Detroit Fire Fighters Association, Detroit Police Officers Association, the city’s two pension funds and the Retired Detroit Police Members Association.

The groups were going to argue that Detroit is ineligible for bankruptcy because Michigan law does not allow a city to file for bankruptcy. From Detroit News:

A federal appeals court Tuesday canceled oral arguments for two public safety unions, a retiree group and the city’s pension funds, which were trying to overturn the city’s eligibility for bankruptcy and its ability to slash pensions.

The cancellation comes one day before the groups were scheduled to deliver arguments in the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio, and following a request to delay the hearing by a city bankruptcy lawyer, who cited ongoing negotiations. The groups impacted by the cancellation are the Detroit Fire Fighters Association, Detroit Police Officers Association, the city’s two pension funds and the Retired Detroit Police Members Association.

Oral argument was set for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and posed one last legal obstacle that could derail an Aug. 14 trial to determine whether Detroit can shed $7 billion in debt and emerge from the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Legal experts, however, believe appeals from pension funds, unions and retiree groups will fail and the bankruptcy case will continue to trial next month.

Robert Gordon, a lead attorney for Detroit’s retirement systems, said the appellate court’s clerk’s office called attorneys involved late Monday and informed them of the cancellation.

A spokeswoman for the Retired Detroit Police Members Association confirmed Tuesday morning the group had struck a deal with the city late Monday night to avoid Wednesday’s planned hearing. That group has argued Michigan’s emergency manager law is unconstitutional because of its similarities to a previous law voters repealed in November 2012.

Detroit has settled with most of its creditors as part of its bankruptcy proceedings. But there has been one notable holdout: Syncora Guarantee Inc, which is facing millions of dollars in potential losses due to the drastic decline in value of the Detroit bonds the corporation holds.

Photo: “DavidStottsitsamongDetroittowers” by Mikerussell – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons

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