PSERS chief counsel steps down as board approves contested lawyer fees

Right after 33 several years as a law firm for the point out of Pennsylvania,

Right after 33 several years as a law firm for the point out of Pennsylvania, Jackie Wiest Lutz used just 10 months as Chief Counsel for the troubled PSERS pension system in advance of saying her retirement Wednesday, as administrators accredited paying almost $1.2 million to exterior law corporations dealing with investigations of the $73 billion fund.

Lutz served “in really challenging situation,” said Chris Santa Maria, the system’s board chairman.

A few months into Lutz’ assistance, PSERS — the Community Faculty Employees’ Retirement Procedure — admitted that it had exaggerated investment decision returns and hired an exterior regulation agency to look into. Also in March, Lutz’s office was visited by FBI agents bearing subpoenas demanding info about that mistake and the agency’s Harrisburg land specials. The agency hired much more outside legislation corporations to defend towards that prison probe.

In June, dissident trustees tried unsuccessfully to oust Lutz’s boss, executive director Glen Grell and the chief investment decision officer James Grossman. Last month, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission despatched PSERS its individual subpoena searching for information and facts about the mistake and any most likely unlawful “gifts” from Wall Avenue fund professionals who fronted vacation charges for agency employees. No one particular has been accused of wrongdoing.

Dealing with all those people investigations remotely wasn’t effortless possibly.

Lutz will be briefly changed by law firm Charles Serine, the longtime PSERS main counsel who retired previous calendar year, till the program finds a permanent replacement.

» Study A lot more: Here’s how the PSERS pension fund keeps its communications secret from the general public

Lutz served in “a incredibly challenging time,” affirmed the audit committee chair, state Rep. Frank Ryan (R., Lebanon) immediately after the board handed a thank-you resolution. “Rough times,” explained Jason Davis, the expenditure committee head, in his have thank-you message. “Rough ways to go,” agreed trustee Debbie Beck.

Beck is leaving, also. The Upper Darby School District workplace secretary and union leader declined to run for reelection as PSERS’ agent for non-educating school employees, an unpaid post that has involved in the vicinity of-weekly meetings, and bimonthly 3-day classes, since the investigations started off in March.

Because no just one answered PSERS’ invitation for candidates to change Beck, the board canceled a scheduled election and named Ann Monaghan, president of a faculty labor union in the Lake Wallenpaupack school district in the Poconos, as Beck’s successor. She and Lemmo “won by default,” as spokesman Steve Esack set it in an e mail Friday.

That district is also dwelling to the agency’s longest-serving trustee, retired instructor Melva Vogler, who endorsed Monaghan. “I have worked with Ann for decades. I think you will obtain she is capable,” Vogler said at an Oct. 8 assembly confirming the go.

Nor did any applicant file to run for the instructors-only board seat now held by Sue Lemmo, an art teacher and union leader in Curwensville, northeast of Pittsburgh. Lemmo agreed to serve a different term. With no race, that election was canceled, way too.

PSERS also voted Wednesday to approve payments to various legislation firms, right after months of delays at the point out treasury adhering to trustee considerations about no matter if the firms have been doing operate licensed by their contracts.

The board approved paying out up to $700,000 to Philadelphia-centered Morgan Lewis & Bockius, and develop the firm’s do the job advising PSERS about the FBI. The business will keep on assisting with the SEC investigation, and the agency’s defense from a lawsuit by a single of its trustees, state Sen. Katie J. Muth (D., Montgomery), who is trying to find data the agency refuses to divulge.

» Examine Far more: It is long previous time for PSERS to embrace transparency, accountability | Editorial

Morgan Lewis has so far billed PSERS $956,000 but had not still gathered any of the dollars as of past week, in accordance to point out Treasury records.

PSERS also agreed to fork out up to $150,000 to Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman attorneys for previous do the job defending in opposition to the Muth accommodate, which its legal professionals have been executing since it was filed previous summer.

“The simplest way to minimize our lawful charges is if we can find settlement” of that inter-board lawsuit, explained trustee Nathan J. Mains, who represents the state’s school boards, which pay $2 billion a 12 months to assist maintain PSERS solvent. “This looks like it really should be an eminently settleable situation.”

Muth explained she has provided to settle, two times. She solid the lone votes from having to pay Morgan Lewis and Pillsbury.

Also, the board agreed to fork out another $35,000 to the Womble Bond Dickinson regulation business. Ryan’s audit committee tapped Womble in March to conduct its inside investigation of the inflated expense quantities. The organization is envisioned to report outcomes to trustees as shortly as early November.

The program has presently paid out Womble $141,000 beneath a contract value up to $367,500.

» Go through Much more: Amid FBI scrutiny, prime PSERS pension officers update economical disclosures

In addition, the board agreed to spend up to $300,000 to the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, whose husband or wife Suzanne Dugan serves as PSERS’ fiduciary counsel, for its operate on the grand jury investigation and the Muth lawsuit. The procedure has compensated Cohen Milstein $210,000 so far this year.

And the board agreed to pay $24,000 to Adviser Compliance Associates LLC (ACA Compliance Group) for “additional screening services” throughout the get the job done it did examining the flawed expense returns, one particular of the activities that sparked the federal investigations.

This tale has been updated just after publication to consist of a assertion by PSERS spokesman Steve Esack and to proper the title of Debbie Beck, the Higher Darby Significant Faculty Place of work Secretary.