- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The Louisiana Supreme Court says it will consider whether a state retirement system must pay what it says is nearly $79,000 a year too much to the former head of the Southern University System.

A state retirement system has cut Ralph Slaughter’s benefits and is withholding additional money to cover the overpayment, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Lower courts have ruled that the officials cannot do that because they couldn’t prove a letter about the overpayment error was properly brought before the retirement system’s board. The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case keeps the question open, said Tonja Normand, spokeswoman for the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System, or LASERS.

“We appealed suspensively, which means we have continued to pay him the corrected and reduced amount of his benefit,” she wrote in an email.

Slaughter retired in 2009 as president of the nation’s largest historically black university system, with retirement pay of $24,488 a month. He had been a state employee for 35 years, and was president of the Southern University System from April 2006 through June 2009.

The final two years were under a contract worked out after he sued the university. It included a state salary of $220,000 a year plus $200,000 a year from the Southern University Foundation. The contract was not renewed.

The university system’s top lawyer notified LASERS in January 2010 that it had mistakenly included money from the private foundation in Slaughter’s state retirement base pay.

The foundation has since sued Slaughter to get the money back. Its lawsuit said the foundation’s board never approved the payments, which were authorized by the Southern Board of Supervisors when it settled Slaughter’s lawsuit.

A district judge ordered Slaughter to repay the foundation $475,000, including $75,000 in foundation money that Slaughter used to pay attorney Jill Craft for the suit against Southern. However, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal has sent the case back to district court for a jury trial, said John McLindon, who represents Slaughter in that suit.

Slaughter sued LASERS after it notified him that it was cutting his retirement pay from $24,488 to $17,909 a month and would dock further checks to recoup the payments based on the foundation money.

Normand did not immediately answer a query about how much was being collected.

A district judge ruled that the retirement system couldn’t collect the alleged excess because it had failed to prove that the letter about Southern’s administrative error had been brought up at the retirement system’s board of trustees first meeting after its arrival.

The 1st Circuit upheld that decision, and the retirement system appealed to the Supreme Court.

Craft, Slaughter’s lawyer, said she was confident the high court would uphold the 1st Circuit’s ruling “after they review the entire record.”

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Associated Press reporter Cain Burdeau contributed to this report.

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