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Ruling lets Stipe keep his pension

By John Greiner Modified: May 28, 2008 at 12:39 am •  Published: May 28, 2008

One major problem arose with the retirement system's interpretation of the importance of the loyalty oath — a oath separate from the oath of office. Loyalty oaths are required by state law, but are not required by the state constitution.

The retirement system's board erroneously determined that the loyalty oath was one of Stipe's oaths of office within the meaning of the law on forfeiting a pension, the court said.

In 1993 the Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional oath was Oklahoma's sole official oath for a public officer, the opinion said. The Legislature changed the law to make the loyalty oath "cumulative” to the oath of office, but that happened on Nov. 1, 2004, after the events in Stipe's case took place, court justices said.

Three justices sit this one out
Not all of the judges took part in the decision.

Justice Rudolph Hargrave wrote the opinion. Those concurring with him were Justices Marian Opala, Joseph Watt, Tom Colbert, John Reif, and retired justices Robert Lavender and Hardy Summers. Winchester dissented.

Retired justices can be asked to sit in on cases when active justices sit out. In this case, three current justices did not participate.

Justice James Edmondson disqualified himself, and Justices Yvonne Kauger and Steven Taylor recused.

Taylor, a former district judge in McAlester, recused in November, saying he had had exposure to extensive local media coverage, considerable hometown comments and local government deliberation and action concerning Stipe's federal felony convictions, most of which are outside the record of the pension case.

He said it would be difficult for him to be a fair and impartial judge of the issues presented.

Edmondson and Kauger offered no explanation in Tuesday's opinion on why they recused.

Read The Oklahoma Supreme Court Ruling

Gene Stipe
The former state senator is eligible for his full pension as a legislator despite pleading guilty to federal charges, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled.

Case background
After former state Sen. Gene Stipe pleaded guilty, the general counsel for the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System sent him a letter that the office determined that all his retirement benefits not vested on Sept. 8, 1981, were forfeited.

The 1981 date is when the state law was enacted to require forfeiture of pension benefits of state officials who pleaded guilty to certain crimes.

Stipe appealed. A hearing examiner ruled in 2004 that Stipe was entitled only to $1,572 a month, which represented his pension earnings before Sept. 8, 1981.

Stipe, a McAlester Democrat, then took his case to the state retirement system's board, which agreed with the hearing examiner.

The dispute then moved to Oklahoma County District Court, where District Judge Barbara Swinton reversed the board's decision and ordered Stipe's full pension reinstated.

The federal charges to which Stipe pleaded guilty were: conspiracy to violate the Federal Election Campaign Act, a misdemeanor; conspiracy to obstruct a Federal Election Commission investigation, a felony; and perjury, a felony.


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