EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


September 25, 2012

Flaherty argues loss of pension is 'cruel' punishment for stealing dirt

Ex-city highway boss says he only took dirt

HAVERHILL — James Flaherty, the former city highway superintendent convicted of stealing paving material from the city, could have murdered someone and kept his public pension.

But, according to state law, the fact Flaherty was convicted of using his position as highway boss to steal from the city means he forfeits the right to collect the benefit, a lawyer for the Haverhill Retirement Board argued to the state’s Appeals Court panel of judges yesterday.

“The plain language of the law is that you can commit any crime, even murder, and you keep your pension,” attorney Michael Sacco said. “But if you use your job to commit a crime that violates the public trust, you lose it.”

The retirement board revoked Flaherty’s pension three months after he was convicted in May 2009 of felony larceny over $250. Flaherty, 70, also pleaded guilty to three counts of filing false tax returns following a high-profile trial in Salem Superior Court.

A Superior Court and District Court judge have already upheld the retirement board’s July 2009 decision to strip Flaherty of his $64,744-a-year pension, which would be worth an estimated $800,000 if he collected it for another decade. Flaherty’s pension, if is returned, would also transfer to his wife if Flaherty dies before her, potentially increasing its value, Sacco said.

Flaherty appealed the prior court decisions and each side was given 15 minutes for oral arguments yesterday morning at the John Adams Courthouse in Boston. Flaherty attended the proceeding with one of his sons and his lawyers, Scott and Thomas Gleason of Haverhill. Thomas Gleason argued the case.

Gleason’s chief argument is that stripping Flaherty of his pension for “stealing $700 worth of dirt” is disproportional punishment and violates the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment as well as excessive fines.

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