Specifically we conclude that plaintiffs have a contractual right, but that the court must still determine whether any impairment of the right is substantial and, if so, whether the reduction was reasonable and necessary to serve a significant and legitimate public purpose.
So reads a line from the October 11, 2012 Colorado Appeals Court ruling that reversed a summary judgment and remanded the Colorado Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) theft case to the district court for further proceedings and, for me, punctuated the difference between the public and private definition of legal and what you can get away with when you are defining the word. For example, take the case of Tom Riker.
Tom Riker was the 8th pick in the 1972 NBA draft taken by the New York Knicks at a time when I was at the peak of my sports obsession* who, as his Wikipedia entry indicates, flopped. He comes to mind because the Knicks gave him a ridiculously long contract since they saw him as a blue chip prospect in line to replace Willis Reed. Notwithstanding any slip-ups by his lawyer(s) all of us would expect that he received full compensation even years (decades) after he was providing no service to the Knicks and their fans because that’s what was in his private-sector contract.
Now fast forward to Colorado 2010 where the state cut back COLAs and brought on this morass of litigation Would the Knicks be able to do the same thing to Tom Riker (assuming they’re still paying him)? What if they wanted to spend that money for other purposes that they considered more significant and legitimate and it was reasonable and necessary to reduce his payments?
Could the Knicks get away with that?** And if they did would anyone ever sign another contract with them? Then why should Colorado?
* In a forensics class at RC High I was supposed to come up with five topics from which the instructor would choose one for me to research and give a brief speech on. My topics were baseball, football, basketball, hockey and roller derby so, as you might gather, sports (watching) was my life. I wound up giving, as I recall it, a rather fine presentation on roller derby.
** Maybe if they were teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and wanted to negotiate him down for his own good as I feel Colorado and all the other states who have stolen COLAs should have done. However states can’t file for bankruptcy and most politicians view their election as a mandate to lead, however blunderingly, rather than follow, even if they don’t have a clue where they’re heading or might end up.