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Monday, December 6, 2010

What's It Take To Lose Your City Pension?

Posted By on Mon, Dec 6, 2010 at 5:55 AM

click to enlarge Yeah, he's bad. But is he lose-his-pension bad?
  • Yeah, he's bad. But is he lose-his-pension bad?

Last week, we reported that ex-San Francisco cop Paul Makaveckas is facing bribery charges for allegedly shaking down cabdrivers hoping to pass their permit tests. We also noted that the 65-year-old is earning a pension of $101,650 a year.

If convicted of the former, will he lose the latter? That's no sure thing. It turns out San Francisco does not keep a master list of crimes committed on the job that will lose city employees their pensions. Rather, it uses the broad term "moral turpitude crimes." What's that encompass? As one city official put it to us, "It's one of those vague terms lawyers use to ensure there will always be a need for lawyers."

While a crime-by-crime listing of what falls under the aegis of "moral turpitude" doesn't exist, the city attorney's office uses the following passage from a 1994 legal advice letter to somewhat define the term:


have not provided an exact definition of the phrase "moral turpitude."

 As the California Supreme Court has explained, "the concept

of moral turpitude escapes precise definition." (Chadwick v. State

Bar (1989) 49 Cal.3d 103, 110; Henry H. v. Board of Pension Commissioners

(1983) 149 Cal.App.3d 965, 975-76.)  It generally has been defined

as "an act of baseness, vileness or depravity in the private and social

duties which a man owes to his fellowmen, or to society in general, contrary

to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and man."

(In re Craig (1938) 12 Cal 2d. 93, 97.)  In addition, "it has

been described as any crime or misconduct without excuse or any dishonesty

or immoral act."  (Chadwick, 49 Cal.3d at 110)  The definition

does not depend on whether the crime is a felony or misdemeanor. (Id.)

click to enlarge Ex-cop Paul Makaveckas is accused of bribery. Would a conviction lose him his pension?
  • Ex-cop Paul Makaveckas is accused of bribery. Would a conviction lose him his pension?
Perhaps in divine retribution for this incredible vagueness, a 2006 court case found the city charter's moral turpitude section did not entitle it to strip away disability pensions. Parsing the charter, the court ruled that "the disqualification language is applicable only to service retirement" -- not disability retirement. In other words, if you were convicted of embezzling on the job, the city could strip your pension. If you fell down the stairs, and then got yourself convicted of embezzlement, your disability pension was safe.

This loophole was eliminated when voters passed Proposition C in 2008.

At that time, SF Weekly asked the District Attorney's office what crimes might fall under the broad definition of "moral turpitude." Some potential offenses: mayhem, corporal punishment, oral copulation and, naturally, sodomy. Huh.

It warrants mentioning that, in order to lose one's pension, a worker must commit a moral turpitude crime while in the execution of his or her job.

So weekend bouts of mayhem, corporal punishment, or sodomy won't ever come to the attention of the San Francisco Employee Retirement System.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" is a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly, which he has written for since 2007. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers... more


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