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Appeals Expected After Philadelphia Judge OKs Candidates Who Took Pensions

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Opponents say they are not dropping the “DROP” issue — the controversial city pension plan that’s created a large measure of debate in and around Philadelphia — even though a judge ruled last night that three Philadelphia candidates can run for re-election despite their participation in the plan (see related story).

Matthew Wolfe, a lawyer and Republican ward leader who filed the initial lawsuit against longtime Philadelphia city councilman Frank Rizzo (see previous story) is appealing to Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.

Lawyer Joe Doherty, who represents rivals of councilwoman Marian Tasco (related story) and city commissioner Marge Tartaglione (related story), is expected to do likewise.

Wolfe argues the three Philadelphia politicians made “an irrevocable commitment” to retire when they entered DROP, the Deferred Retirement Option Program, so they are not eligible to run for re-election.

“While there is authority for the city to make a decision to rehire someone, ‘rehire’ and ‘re-elect’ are two separate and distinct words that have separate and distinct meanings,” Wolfe argues.

Rizzo’s lump-sum pension is about $200,000 and Tartaglione’s — by virtue of her longer tenure — is more than $475,000.

In his ruling allowing the three to run again for office, Judge James Lynn wrote that the petitioners failed to meet their burden of proof, raising political issues that were not in the province of the court to remedy.

The judge said they were in effect asking the court to rewrite a city ordinance.

Opponents have ten days to file an appeal, and the clock is also counting down to the Pennsylvania Primary, which is May 17th.

Commonwealth Court often hears time-sensitive matters like this on an expedited basis.  Wolfe, the attorney, expects to get a schedule with both sides filing briefs at the same time, rather than the typical, slower procedure for one to file and then the other to respond.

Reported by Steve Tawa, KYW Newsradio 1060.

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