A judge is seeking approval of a bill that would give him a $97,000-a-year annual pension for life even though his six years on the bench would normally make him ineligible for a state pension and despite evidence that he enjoys a six-figure income.
Judge Patrick Riley left the Superior Court bench in 2008 at age 59 after suffering three heart attacks. Normally he wouldn’t qualify for a state pension until he's 70, and even then it would be a reduced pension based on the six years he worked.
But in an interview, Riley says he’s entitled to the same pension given to judges who work the minimum 10 years normally needed to qualify for the state benefit.
“I think right now the benefits that I'm seeking are appropriate and I intend to pursue them,” Riley said.
“To the average person out there, $90,000 dollars a year for six years of work seems like a lot of money,” FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet said.
“Well, to the average citizen, they may think that that's a lot of pension. But I made a lot of personal sacrifices to serve the public and I believe I'm eligible for those benefits and should receive them,” Riley said.
Judge Riley believes he's eligible because of his heart problems, which he thinks were caused by his work as a judge. He even had one heart attack while he was sitting in Lawrence Superior Court. Doctors agree he can’t work anymore
In 2008, Judge Riley asked Gov. Deval Patrick to use a special provision for judges and grant him what's known as a constitutional retirement, something that's been done 14 times since Gov. William Weld took office in 1991. These retirements must be approved by the governor and the Governor’s Council.
“The judges have used it as a way to juice up their pensions,” said Governor’s Councilor Mary-Ellen Manning.
Manning says the constitutional provision was written so governors could remove judges against their will, not as a way for judges to receive a self-serving disability pension.
“Does Judge Riley deserve a $90,000-dollar-a-year pension?” Beaudet asked.
“Not if he didn't earn it. Doesn't sound like he earned it,” Manning said.
The Patrick administration agrees.
“We shouldn't be wasting any taxpayer money,” said Mass. Secretary of Administration and Finance Jay Gonzalez, who is Gov. Patrick’s top budget advisor.
“I think the governor at the time concluded in this case and under the fiscal context that we were under…that it wasn't justified,” Gonzalez said.
But Judge Riley didn't give up after being turned down by the governor. Instead, he turned to an old friend in the Legislature.
“His medical records and his doctors said, ‘If you stay on the bench, you will die,’” said state Sen. Steven Baddour, who hosted Judge Riley's swearing-in ceremony in 2002.
Baddour filed the bill that would give Judge Riley the full pension.
“Is this about helping out a friend?” Beaudet asked.
“No, it's about helping out someone who's had multiple heart attacks on the bench, that they had no other available remedy at the time, he was told there's no other available other than a constitutional retirement,” Baddour replied.
But FOX Undercover discovered there are other options.
Judge Riley could wait until he's 70 and get a pension based on the six years he worked, which would be about $55,000-a-year.
Or he could apply for an accidental disability, but he'll have to prove his work on the bench, caused his heart condition.
“Did you hope this bill would pass and no one would notice?” Beaudet asked Baddour.
“No,” Baddour replied. “Absolutely not. And trust me there were opportunities where we could have done that and we did not. Because one, that's not the way I operate, and that's not the way the judge wanted it to be done. We're being open on this whole thing.”
Riley did work in the public sector early in his career. He was a prosecutor in the Essex County District Attorney’s office for six years, but he took out the money he paid into the pension. For most of his career, from 1985 to 2002, he was a partner in his own law firm.
Riley told FOX Undercover that since he left the bench he’s been using savings to get by.
“I have savings that I’ve been living on. I’ve been without pay for quite a while,” he said.
But FOX Undercover found that's just not true.
Records obtained by FOX Undercover show he’s chairman of the board of independent trustees at State Street Global Advisors. A State Street disclosure form filed April 29, 2011 shows he made $188,000 dollars last year.
And in a questionnaire Judge Riley filled out in 2002 when he was nominated to become a judge, he wrote "I currently receive income from deferred legal fees, trustees fees and annuities which will continue for many years."
He also acknowledged owning stock in General Electric and Oracle, and listed investments in more than two dozen mutual funds.
“The eligibility of retirement benefits has never been determined by one's personal wealth or financial need, it's whether you're eligible for it because you've earned it and deserve it,” Riley said.
But it looks like Judge Riley is having second thoughts. Within hours of sitting down with FOX Undercover, Sen. Baddour said he was putting the bill on hold because Riley wanted to pursue an accidental disability.
But that could be tough, since he's going to have to prove that his job as a judge caused his heart condition.
This is hardly the first time lawmakers write a bill to provide retirement benefits to a particular person. Gov. Patrick’s pension reform bill would require lawmakers to include a financial analysis of any bill that specifically grants someone a pension so that the lawmakers and the public can know exactly how much it's really costing.