State charges civil suit against retired Munster administrators

William Pfister, left, and Richard Sopko.

The Indiana Supreme Court is being urged to reject the state's request for an opportunity to seek the return of hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra retirement pay from two former School Town of Munster superintendents.

Attorneys for the former school chiefs, William Pfister and Richard Sopko, recently filed documents with the state's high court recommending the five justices deny a petition submitted last month by Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill Jr. It asks the June 24 Court of Appeals ruling in the superintendents' favor be set aside, and the case transferred for a decision by the Supreme Court.

Pfister and Sopko argued there's no need for the Supreme Court to get involved in the case because the Court of Appeals and the Lake Circuit Court both correctly ruled the attorney general's efforts to recover the money came after the five-year statute of limitations had expired.

At issue are retirement annuity payments totaling $473,976.06 to Pfister and $387,528.60 to Sopko that Hill claims were excessive and unlawful, and which his office only learned about following a special State Board of Accounts audit delivered on June 8, 2016.

On the other hand, the superintendents noted the extra retirement pay was explicitly written into their contracts that repeatedly were approved by the Munster school board between 2003 and 2014, along with the payment vouchers required for the funds to be distributed.

In addition, they said the State Board of Accounts found no malfeasance connected to the payments in its six regular biennial audits of Munster schools covering the period when Pfister and Sopko led the district.

"The plain language of the statute, in other words, makes it mandatory that the SBOA report actionable irregularities to the Office of the Attorney General 'upon the completion of an examination' — and no later," they said.

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"It follows, then, that if the SBOA does not report such irregularities to the Office of the Attorney General, it waives its ability to do so in the future, such as after subsequent audits."

Hill argued in his petition for Supreme Court review it's irrelevant that prior state audits failed to identify any misdeeds because Indiana law permits the SBOA to conduct special audits when public corruption is alleged, as it was in this case by the school district's lawyer, Kathleen Maicher.

In response, the superintendents said Hill is misinterpreting case law in a way that could, in effect, allow the attorney general to use legal maneuvers to perpetually bypass the statutory deadlines after which certain lawsuits no longer can be filed.

"It is absurd to think this is what (precedent) advises," they said.

Hill is expected later this month to submit a response to the superintendents' filing.

The Supreme Court then will decide in subsequent months whether it will hear the case. Three of the five justices must vote to grant transfer to vacate the Court of Appeals ruling and set a case for decision by the Supreme Court.

The high court typically agrees to hear about 8% of the cases appealed to it each year.

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