NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) – Lawyers on both sides of the high-stakes lawsuit challenging Rhode Island’s landmark 2011 state pension overhaul met with the judge behind closed doors Tuesday morning as the pretrial process continued.

John Tarantino, a lawyer representing the state, told the jury trial is still on track to begin April 20, as ordered by R.I. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter last month.

At stake is whether Rhode Island legislators acted constitutionally three years ago when they reduced future retirement benefits to shave roughly $4 billion off the shortfall in the state’s pension fund for government workers and taxpayers.

Tarantino said Taft-Carter scheduled four pretrial hearings in the suit during Tuesday’s status conference: for Feb. 6, on motions by various municipalities to be removed as defendants; for Feb. 20, on motions to consolidate; for March 6, for advance rulings about the trial; and for March 27, on dispositive motions.

At Tuesday’s status conference, more than two dozen lawyers involved in the case spent about forty minutes meeting with Taft-Carter in a closed courtroom to work through scheduling matters. Taft-Carter made no rulings in the case on Tuesday. She previously said the process for discovery of evidence will end on March 15.

Sam Zurier, a Providence city councilman and an attorney who is representing some of the school districts involved in the suit, said some of the lawyers at the status conference compared its complexity to the high-profile lead-paint suit that dragged on from 1999 to 2008.

Tuesday’s status conference also marked the first court action in the pension lawsuit since last week’s transition of power in Rhode Island. Among the new lawyers on hand was Jeff Padwa, who has been hired as deputy treasurer and legal counsel to Treasurer Seth Magaziner.

Mark Dingley, who was legal counsel to Gov. Gina Raimondo when she was treasurer, said he is going to continue working on the case part-time for Magaziner but is in the process of returning to the private sector.

The pension law was largely designed by Raimondo and passed overwhelmingly by the General Assembly in November 2011. It saved billions of dollars by taking a number of unprecedented steps, most notably freezing cost-of-living adjustments for retirees, and has drawn national attention.

A group of 205 union and retiree plaintiffs filed suit to overturn the pension law in June 2012. The two sides went on to reach a proposed settlement after more than a year of closed-door negotiations, but that deal was scuttled by a small group of police officers, which put the conflict back in court.

Taft-Carter had previously set a Sept. 15 trial date for the suit but scrapped it as the sides got tied up in pretrial matters.

It’s highly likely the outcome in Superior Court will be appealed to the R.I. Supreme Court no matter which side wins. However, state and union leaders say there is also growing momentum in favor of making another attempt to end the suit with an out-of-court settlement. Raimondo has said she is still open to settling but does not want to change the terms of the settlement agreement that failed last year.Ted Nesi ( ) covers politics and the economy for and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi