Detroit Pension Fund Fires Top Lawyer


Detroit’s Police and Fire pension fund fired its general counsel, Joseph Turner, on Thursday.

Reports had surfaced weeks ago that trustees were uncomfortable with having Turner on staff because he was with the fund when it was embroiled in corruption scandals.

Trustees reportedly wanted a clean break from the pension fund’s past mismanagement.

From Detroit News:

The 9-7 vote to fire general counsel Joseph Turner and his law firm, Clark Hill, comes three weeks after The News exclusively reported that some members of the pension fund had lost confidence in Turner. His continued involvement in the pension board raised questions about the city’s ability to move past a history of corruption, mismanagement and bad investments that helped push Detroit into bankruptcy, critics said.

“I respect their decision,” Turner said after the meeting. “I don’t agree with it, but I respect it.”

Clark Hill will continue to represent the pension fund in matters related to the city’s bankruptcy case, and some ongoing lawsuits, pension fund spokesman Bruce Babiarz said.

The board will seek a replacement in coming months.

Turner admitted in court that years ago, he gave previous trustees large amounts of cash as “birthday presents”. Those same trustees later voted to give Turner a raise.


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Several Jacksonville Council Members Support Investigation into Pension System

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Earlier this month, Florida state Rep. Janet Adkins sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott calling for an investigation into the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund – specifically, the “questionable practices and possible mismanagement” of its DROP fund.

Now, several members of the Jacksonville City Council say would support such an investigation and are planning on writing to Gov. Scott as well.

From the Florida Times-Union:

Councilman Bill Gulliford said he sent Scott a letter last week asking him to take a “hard look” into the pension fund’s practices. Councilman Bill Bishop and Council President Clay Yarborough said they plan to send letters to Scott, as well.


In October, the Times-Union reported how the pension fund ignored findings by the City Council Auditor’s Office and city lawyers that the pension fund incorrectly applied regulations for participation in DROP. The Times-Union found that three individuals who entered DROP will collectively receive about $1.8 million more than they would under strict interpretation of the code.

“You have members of the public and taxpayers asking leaders how they can get away with this,” Yarborough said. “I don’t have a good answer for them.”

When asked Monday what they thought of Adkin’s call for a state investigation, many council members said they supported the idea.

“I think it’s a worthwhile exercise,” said Councilman John Crescimbeni. “I think the taxpayers have a right to know whether there’s any waste or fraud.”

Other council members say they don’t support an investigation, or remained non-committal:

Councilman Jim Love said a state investigation may be “overkill”, while Councilman Richard Clark said it would serve as a distraction to the city’s attempt at pension reform.

“It puts a bad taste in my mouth,” Clark said. “I don’t know what it solves by accusing them of something. We need to solve our pension issues. We need to solve them in a fashion that’s constructive.”

Councilwoman Denise Lee said she didn’t “really have an opinion on it,” and Councilman Robin Lumb said he had no comment.

Mayor Alvin Brown’s office didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.

The Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund is currently deciding whether to approve the city’s pension reform measure, which was passed by the City Council earlier this month.


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Detroit Pension Chair Calls for Firing of Lawyer Employed During Bribery Scandal


The Chairman of the Detroit Police & Fire pension fund is calling for the termination of the fund’s general counsel. That’s because the lawyer was employed at the fund during the bribery and pay-to-play scandal that cost the fund millions.

The general counsel, Joseph Turner, was not charged with any crimes. But the trustees have said publicly that they don’t trust him and want a clean break from the years of bribery that have plagued the fund.

From the Detroit News:

A powerful lawyer who factored into the Detroit pension fund bribery scandal and continues to wield influence over the Police & Fire retirement system could soon be out of a job.

Critics of the retirement system’s general counsel, Joseph Turner, say his continued involvement in the pension board raises questions about the city’s ability to move past a history of corruption, mismanagement and bad investments that helped push Detroit into bankruptcy.

Detroit Police & Fire pension fund Chairman Mark Diaz said he is prepared to ask board members to fire Turner and his law firm Clark Hill PLC, now that a corruption trial has ended in six convictions and Detroit has emerged from bankruptcy.

The pension board’s next meeting is Thursday.

Here’s what trustees have said of Turner, from Detroit News:

“Very simply: we don’t have confidence in him,” [Chairman] Diaz told The News Wednesday. “This is a multi-billion-dollar corporation and we cannot have the air of impropriety whatsoever.”

Fellow Trustee Georze Orzech was blunt when asked about Turner.

“He’s got to go,” Orzech said. “I don’t trust him.”

According to Detroit News, in 2007 Turner gave thousands of dollars of “birthday money” to various trustees. Soon after, the trustees voted to raise Turner’s pay from $225 to $300 an hour.


Photo credit: “DavidStottsitsamongDetroittowers” by Mikerussell – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons