If you are a fan of court cases with political overtones, one to keep an eye on is the effort by a former city employee to get back his full pension, which the city took away from him.

The plaintiff is John Keane, former deputy, former firefighter, former union lobbyist and former director of the Police & Fire Pension Fund.

In the 50-plus years I’ve known him, Keane has been battling with government officials constantly, and always winning.

Back in the 1980s, for example, he fought to get the pension fund designated an independent authority. He was opposed by the City Council (and the newspaper editorials I was writing). But he won.

As the director of an independent authority, Keane had virtually a free hand, subject only to the board of trustees of the fund. He saw his mission as improving the pension fund benefits for retirees and he did very well at it, and was paid very well.

So well that city officials, and newspaper reporters, tried to blame him when the fund began to eat up a large part of the city budget.

He was attacked by the newspaper in a series of stories, not all of them accurate, and city officials – for whatever reason – took away his pension. One of them at least.

Keane has pensions from service as a firefighter and from the Florida Air National Guard. He also draws Social Security. In addition, the pension fund established a separate pension fund for its employees, which consisted of Keane and two other people.

In 2015, Keane retired and started drawing his retirement.

Then in 2016 the mayor’s finance director wrote Keane a letter advising that it was reducing the amount of the pension paid him and the other two members. That is the issue Keane is battling in state and federal court.

If local politicians thought Keane would take the setback and go away, they don’t know him very well.

He has spent large amounts on legal fees. And he has excellent representation. Local lawyer Bill Sheppard is handling his case. Sheppard is as liberal as you can get, but he is considered one of the top lawyers in town.

In a petition for a declaratory judgment and damages, Sheppard argues that the city general counsel’s office once claimed to represent the pension fund, then said it doesn’t and then later said it does.

The city’s lawyers also said that he was not eligible to be in the general employee’s fund, but now claim that he should have joined the general employee’s fund.

The City Council also passed an ordinance saying that in the future the pension board cannot set up a separate pension fund. But if it needed a law to say it can’t in the future, it must mean that the board had that authority in the past.

On its face, it appears that local politicians took out long-standing resentment against Keane and that the action they took was questionable, in a legal sense. It is up to the courts to decide, however, and Eye will keep an eye on the developments in the case.

Lloyd Brown
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Lloyd was born in Jacksonville. Graduated from the University of North Florida.  He spent nearly 50 years of his life in the newspaper business …beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor for Florida Times Union.  He has also been published in a number of national newspapers and magazines, as well as Internet sites. Married with children. Military Vet. Retired. Man of few words but the words are researched well, deeply considered and thoughtfully written.

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