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Pension hearing for former Waltham police chief LaCroix rescheduled, closed to public

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  August 28, 2013 11:10 AM

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The pension hearing for former Waltham police chief Thomas LaCroix slated for tonight has been rescheduled until the Retirement Board's September meeting, and will be closed to the public, said Waltham retirement director Joseph Juppe.

Nicholas Poser, the lawyer representing LaCroix in his fight to receive a town pension after being convicted of assaulting his wife, asked officials to reschedule the meeting because Poser could not make tonight's meeting, Juppe said this morning.

Poser is currently the president of the Massachusetts Association of Public Pension Attorneys, according to the organization's website.

LaCroix's pension hearing comes after the Waltham Retirement Board voted unanimously in July to summon LaCroix to help officials determine if he should receive his pension.

LaCroix filed paperwork to receive retirement benefits less than a month after he was convicted of twice assaulting his wife in their Maynard home last summer.

A Concord District Court jury found LaCroix guilty on June 26 of assaulting his wife, Andrea, last year. He resigned from his post July 10, the same day Judge J. Elizabeth Cremens sentenced him to 18-months’ probation.

Michael Sacco, the retirement board’s lawyer, previously said officials are gathering information about LaCroix’s convictions from the court, and are reviewing local manuals for police codes of conduct to help make their determination.

He said LaCroix is allowed to ask for his pension hearing to be closed to the public, but noted that the written decision will be public either way.

LaCroix, 50, worked for the Waltham Police Department for 26 years, and was appointed chief in 2007. Retirement officials previously told the Globe that city employees must have worked for 20 years, or 10 years if they are 50 years old or older, to qualify for pension benefits.

If approved, LaCroix’s 26 years of police service, coupled with his age, would result in an annual pension equivalent to 52 percent of his average salary and longevity pay over the last three years.

Last year, LaCroix made $163,119 in salary and longevity, according to payroll records.

But if LaCroix’s convictions are found to relate to his job as chief at all, city officials could try to take away his pension under state retirement law.

Walter Foster, a Boston-based lawyer who specializes in public pension law, previously told the Globe that Waltham officials could make a “strong argument” that LaCroix should forfeit some or all of his pension.

Foster said the state allows a pension to be taken away if a person has been convicted of a crime related to his or her office.

“I know there are similar cases where arguments have been made for forfeiture, because police officers are sworn to uphold the law, and people say, ‘Here you are, breaking it,’” Foster said.

Poser, LaCroix's lawyer, said over the phone that his client is looking forward to a "fair hearing" and "a judicious and mature weighing of the evidence and application of the law."

"These are essentially personal crimes outside of his jurisdiction - outside Waltham - and he didn’t use his job to commit the crimes," Poser said. "In the end, he hopes the board sees it his way, and doesn’t mandate his forfeiture under these circumstances."

Sacco previously told the Globe he could not speculate on what the board’s actions would be.

“Obviously, we’re aware he was criminally convicted, and in any circumstance where a public employee was convicted of a crime, we review the underlying facts of the case, as well as the laws that were broken, to determine whether or not those criminal convictions were a violation of laws applicable to office or position,” Sacco previously said, citing the state law that would allow the Retirement Board to deny LaCroix’s pension application.

Sacco said that a decision on LaCroix's pension, which must be voted on by the board after Poser submits a legal brief, could be made "as early as October and likely no later than November."

LaCroix had been on paid administrative leave for a little more than a year when the jury returned the guilty verdict. He was then taken off the city payroll, but continued on unpaid leave. At that point, he had collected about $200,000 in pay after his arrest on June 14, 2012, according to city payroll records.

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