Outside Legal Expenses Strain Budget of Arizona Pension


Arizona’s Public Safety Personnel Retirement System [PSPRS] was scolded in 2014 for racking up over a million dollars in outside legal bills related to investment advice and administration issues.

But the spending has continued into 2015, and now the legal bills are expected to push the system 10 percent over its budget for this fiscal year.

More from the Arizona Republic:

The state Public Safety Personnel Retirement System is projected to exceed its budget by at least $1 million because of unexpected expenses for outside legal advice.


The fund was told last fall to reduce its legal tab after its large outside legal fees caught the attention of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.

However, spending on outside counsel has continued under acting Administrator Jared Smout, and the trust is projected to be at least $1 million over budget with four months left in the fiscal year.


The trust runs on an $11.2 million annual budget that pays for personnel, operating expenses and outside consultants such as private attorneys. Legal bills are paid from various accounts.

The $1 million in excess legal fees means the trust is projected to exceed its budget by nearly 10 percent.

Christian Palmer, a fund spokesman, said most of the additional legal expenses stem from hiring outside attorneys who specialize in investment advice. Records show 70 percent of the additional legal costs arose from investment issues, while 30 percent involved administrative issues.

“It’s a good problem to have. We had older investments that came to realization,” Palmer said. “As older investments have realized a return, we had to find new investments. You have to bring in a due-diligence process.”

PSPRS manages over $8 billion in assets.


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Towers Watson Sued Over Advice That Allegedly Led to “Substantial Losses” For Pension Fund

Graph With Stacks Of Coins

Consulting firm Towers Watson faces a lawsuit from the UK’s British Coal Staff Superannuation Scheme.

The pension fund, one of the UK’s largest, alleges that Towers Watson gave them “negligent investment consulting advice” that eventually led to significant investment losses.

Towers Watson denies the allegation.

From Chief Investment Officer:

Global consulting firm Towers Watson is being sued by one of the UK’s largest pension funds for more than £47 million ($72 million).

The UK’s British Coal Staff Superannuation Scheme has filed a lawsuit in the US against the consultant alleging “negligent investment consulting advice” relating to a currency hedge.

The trustees of the £8.7 billion pension issued Towers Watson a letter of claim in September, according to a 10Q filing made to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on November 5. The lawsuit relates to a currency hedge on a £250 million investment in a local currency emerging market debt fund, which was made in August 2008. The advice was provided by Watson Wyatt, which merged with Towers Perrin to create Towers Watson in 2010.

According to the regulatory filing, the claim alleges that the currency hedge caused a “substantial loss” to the pension fund between August 2008 and October 2012. The loss was valued at £47.5 million by the pension fund.

A spokesperson for Towers Watson told CIO that the firm “disputes the allegations brought by the British Coal Staff Superannuation Scheme and intends to defend the matter vigorously.”

The SEC filing stated: “Based on all of the information to date, and given the stage of the matter, [Towers Watson] is currently unable to provide an estimate of the reasonably possible loss or range of loss.”

The consultant was set to have issued a letter on the matter to the pension fund on or before December 23, 2014, the filing said.

The British Coal Staff Superannuation Scheme declined to comment.

The British Coal Staff Superannuation Scheme manages over $13 billion in assets.


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Arizona Pension Scolded After Racking Up $1.76 million Legal Bill In 2013-14

Entering Arizona

The Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS) racked up $1.76 million in legal bills in fiscal year 2013-14.

To put that legal tab in context, consider the legal bills accrued by the state’s largest pension fund, the Arizona State Retirement System: ASRS is four times as big as PSPRS, but only paid $1.24 million in legal bills.

The state’s Attorney General’s Office is now saying that enough is enough. From now on, the Office says it must approve any legal work outside investment advice.

From the Arizona Republic:

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office has cracked down on the use of outside legal counsel by the financially troubled Arizona public-safety pension fund after the fund paid out $1.76 million to the Kutak Rock law firm last fiscal year.

The Public Safety Personnel Retirement System also is represented by the Attorney General’s Office and recently hired a full-time investment attorney who makes $215,000 annually. The pension fund has relied on Kutak Rock for administrative, litigation and investment advice, records show.

Under the Attorney General’s directive, Kutak Rock now may only provide investment advice. Any additional work must be approved by the Attorney General’s Office.

Eric Bistrow, chief deputy attorney general, recently wrote PSPRS that engaging outside counsel “when there is no need to do so constitutes a breach of fiduciary responsibilities.” Bistrow noted that he has instructed staff members to “be vigilant in requiring” PSPRS to adhere to proper standards.

Of the $1.76 million billed by Kutak Rock last year, just more than one-third related to investment advice, records show. The balance related to administrative and litigation matters.


“We took this action because they (Kutak Rock) were doing too much and were well beyond the scope,” said Stephanie Grisham, spokeswoman for Attorney General Tom Horne. “Basically, they (PSPRS) were using them instead of us, and that was not okay.”

Bistrow bluntly told PSPRS that large outside legal tabs would no longer be tolerated. He said in his directive that the same services “can be obtained with as much, if not more, expertise and at a much lower cost, at this office.”

Jared Smout, PSPRS interim administrator, said the pension fund is “working to make everything right. We are trying to figure out the balance. The AG’s Office will now provide review of public records requests, open meetings laws and personnel matters.”

What caused the high legal bills? The pension fund offers an explanation:

PSPRS has been particularly busy in [several] legal areas over the past 18 months. The system has been locked in litigation with former employees who allege it engaged in questionable financial practices, and its director retired this summer after The Arizona Republic disclosed that illegal raises had been paid to some staffers.

Those problems have invited close scrutiny by journalists and the FBI, which is investigating some of the whistle-blowers’ allegations.

Smout said PSPRS has until now relied on outside counsel because the trust’s investments expanded during the past decade and the agency needed legal expertise.

“We’ve only had competent in-house counsel since August,” Smout said.

Read more coverage of Arizona’s PSPRS, and the controversies surrounding the fund, here.