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Pension Benefits

Best Best & Krieger LLP (BBK) attorneys bring years of experience working with board members, management, staff and bargaining group representatives to derive solutions to the pension benefits challenges public agencies face. 

Serving as employee benefits and retirement counsel to a wide variety of public agency clients, including joint powers authorities, counties, cities, special districts and school districts, we advise on the design and administration of employee and retiree benefit programs and related issues.
Our firm is at the forefront in advising on public agency obligations under California’s vested rights doctrine and the interplay with state, regional or local statutes establishing those benefits. We have led the way in evaluating pension obligations under various pension systems, including statewide, regional and stand-alone systems, and the modifications of their pension obligations. We also work on proposals that include creation of multiple-tiered benefit arrangements for new employees, cost-sharing arrangements, increased employee contributions, and adoption of defined contribution plans as an alternative to the defined benefit option.

BBK attorneys regularly help public agency clients navigate the complex legal issues involving pension benefits, including:

  • Application of the mandatory coverage rules for Social Security
  • Interpretation, effect and application of defined benefit plan obligations under state law
  • Legal obligations under existing plans
  • Fiduciary obligations arising under the California Constitution and statutes and parallel obligations defined under ERISA
  • Design of investment risk management policies and monitoring programs
  • State and federal tax law implications of pension contributions, including employer-employee cost-sharing arrangements, and the impact of these laws on benefits that public entities provide to employees, retirees and governing board members
  • Ground-up restructuring and/or maintenance of defined benefit plans
  • Advising on feasibility of transferring assets, liabilities and obligations of defined benefit plans to a separate or successor entity, including drafting of relevant legislation when necessary
  • Drafting contract and labor agreement language to meet compliance requirements of state and federal law

Through representing numerous public agency clients that have one or more collective bargaining groups, we have become skilled at identifying options to achieve pension goals and ensuring proposals are both legally permissible and acceptable to bargaining representatives.
Our attorneys are among the leading authorities on California’s pension reform bill, AB 340 (2012), and bring a wealth of experience in the laws and legal principles that directly impact the pension benefits that public agencies maintain, including:

  • 401(a) defined benefit and defined contribution plans
  • 457(b) deferred compensation plans
  • 403(b) plans for school employers
  • Irrevocable trusts to prefund pension benefits

Our attorneys possess the necessary intimate familiarity with the body of California law that has defined the parameters of the vested rights doctrine and a clear understanding of whether and when the constraints of the vested rights doctrine apply. We also have significant experience with ERISA, including the provisions that apply to the pension plans of public agency clients, and with the state laws that apply to state, regional and local pension systems, including applicable provisions of the California Constitution, the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act, the Public Employees Retirement Law, the County Employees’ Retirement Law of 1937, and the laws applicable to municipal and special district pension plans.

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