EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

January 24, 2013

Flaherty to continue fight for pension

Lawyer: Appeal will go to state's highest court, even federal level

HAVERHILL — Full speed ahead.

That was the response from James Flaherty’s lawyer when asked if his client intends to continue a legal fight to win back his $64,744-a-year pension.

The city’s Retirement Board revoked the pension in 2009, after the former Haverhill Highway Department superintendent was convicted of stealing from the city. A state Appeals Court decision released last week affirmed prior rulings from a superior court and district court that upheld the decision to strip Flaherty, 70, of his pension. According to the court ruling, the pension is worth $940,000, based on Flaherty’s life expectancy, and includes health benefits for him and his wife.

Flaherty’s attorney, Scott Gleason, said he will ask the state’s highest court — the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court — to review the case. If that court declines, Gleason said he will take the fight to federal court on constitutional grounds. Flaherty has 20 days from his latest court loss to file an appeal with the Supreme Judicial Court, which has discretion to accept or decline the case.

“We disagree with the Appeals Court that a 47-year career, pension worth $1 million, that was earned with blood, sweat and tears, should be taken away for the theft of $500 worth of dirt,” Gleason said of Flaherty’s conviction for stealing paving material from the city. “After we exhaust our options in state court, we’ll go to federal court if we have to. We’re going all the way.”

In May 2009, Flaherty was convicted by a jury of felony larceny over $250 and pleaded guilty to three counts of filing false tax returns following his trial in Salem Superior Court. He was also indicted but found not guilty of procurement fraud and improper compensation by a municipal employee.

Three months later, the city’s Retirement Board revoked Flaherty’s pension, based on a law that states a person convicted of using his public position to steal from the public forfeits the right to collect the benefit.

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