LINCOLN, NE – A former state trooper convicted of sexually assaulting an underage girl won’t have to pay his pension to the victim’s father, the Nebraska Supreme Court said Friday.
The court ruled that a 2012 law that would have allowed the garnishment was unconstitutional special legislation because it only applied to six crimes.
Billy Hobbs was convicted of first-degree sexual assault of a child in 2006 and sentenced to up to 30 years in prison. The girl’s father sued Hobbs on her behalf, and was awarded $325,000. Hobbs filed a lawsuit seeking to have the new law declared unconstitutional.
The girl told investigators that Hobbs sexually abused her for two years, starting when she was 12 years old. The Associated Press does not generally identify victims of sexual abuse.
Victims of other crimes aren’t entitled to retirement assets, so the law effectively creates two separate classes of people, according to the ruling. It also gives preference to public employees who plead no contest or are convicted of a crime that wasn’t included in the 2012 law, the court ruled.
“No substantial difference exists between the favored group of victims and employees and those victims and employees who do not receive the act’s benefits,” Justice William Connolly said in the opinion.
Hobbs is receiving more than $3,700 a month while in prison, with more than $1,800 going to his ex-wife as part of their divorce, according to court records. A judge rejected the father’s request to use the rest of the money to pay off the civil judgment, ruling that Hobbs’ retirement assets were exempt.
The 2012 law was introduced after the state Supreme Court declared that the old law protected state benefits from collection actions. It was passed as an amendment to a larger bill by the Legislature’s Retirement Systems Committee.
The six crimes covered by the law are assault, sexual assault, kidnapping, child abuse, false imprisonment and theft by embezzlement. Those who are convicted also have to be found liable in a civil case.
The ruling upheld a decision by Lancaster County District Judge Paul Merritt Jr., who declared the amendment unconstitutional last year. Merritt said it was unclear why the law applied to six felonies and not others, such as robbery, arson or incest.
From The Associated Press via The Albany Times Union