Sonoma County health care retiree suit reinstated

A federal appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit brought by retired Sonoma County government employees claiming the Board of Supervisors reneged on a pledge to provide lifetime health benefits.

Monday's 2-1 opinion from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals means the group representing about 1,500 former county workers can try once again to make its case in district court.

"You can't break your promises just because you don't have the money," said Jeff Lewis, an attorney for the Sonoma County Association of Retired Employees, which filed the lawsuit.

Board of Supervisors Chairman David Rabbitt did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment. County officials downplayed the significance of the appeals court ruling.

The retirees' suit claimed the board violated its long-standing agreement to pay for "all or substantially all" health benefits when it cut them to $500 a month in 2008.

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