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Friday, September 28, 2007

Ind. Decisions - Montgomery County paper's take on the Supreme Court's mandate ruling

Updating this ILB entry from yesterday, today we have The Paper of Montgomery County's report, written by community editor Barry Lewis, on the Supreme Court's decision Wednesday in the court employee salary case: In Re: Order for Mandate of Funds; Montgomery County Council v. Hon. Thomas K. Milligan, Hon. David A. Ault and Hon. Peggy Q. Lohorn:

After nine months of waiting the Indiana Supreme Court has rendered its decision in the case between the Montgomery County Council and the judges' mandate of funds.

In a decision made Wednesday and received Thursday, the Supreme Court did not agree with the findings special trial Judge Julian L. Ridlen who ruled in favor of the judges. After a two-day trial in July of 2006, Ridlen issued an order on Sept. 19, 2006 that the Montgomery County Council pay the salaries mandated by the three Montgomery County judges, along with attorney fees of more than $124,000.

The Supreme Court's decision did give all nine court employees pay raises, but not at the level the judges had sought. The ruling also cut the amount of the judges' legal fees from $124,525 to $72,810.29.

"We felt like what the judges had asked for was excessive and it's nice to see that the Supreme Court agreed with us," current Council President Don Peterson said.

Sen. Phil Boots, who was a council member at the time of the mandate and the trial, had mixed feelings about the decision.

"I am happy that the Supreme Court basically agreed with what we were willing to offer originally," he said. "I am disappointed that the fact that we had to go through all this legal mumbo-jumbo to get to this point. We tried to negotiate a number very similar to this and the judges refused. Now, we are about where we could have been, but it has cost the taxpayers a lot more money to get to that point."

The judges declined comment individually, but released a statement, which in part, read:

"Adequate funding for the courts' staffs had become an issue that could not be postponed any longer. The judges regret that the conflict developed as it did. To the credit of both the council members and the judges the disagreement did not become personal, but all parties remained professional."

The judges had mandated that court reporters and administrative assistants be paid $31,200 and that the secretary/ bailiff/ receptionist be paid $27,200. The Council offered the judges $27,000 for the court reporter and administration assistant positions.

According to the ruling, court reporters will receive $29,800 for time worked from Aug. 15, 2005 (when the original mandate was issued) to Dec. 31, 2005 and $30,700 for 2006. The salary for 2007 will be the 2006 salary, plus whatever raise was given. The administrative assistants will be awarded $27,600 for 2005, $28,400 for 2006 and 2007 will be whatever raise was given. The secretary/ bailiff/ receptionist salary will go to $26,100 for 2005, $26.900 for 2006 and the salary for 2007 will be whatever raise was given.

According to the Supreme Court ruling the figures were based on comparison salaries from the contiguous counties (Boone, Clinton, Tippecanoe, Fountain, Parke, Putnam and Hendricks).

"Comparisons with competing and contiguous counties take into account the most immediate 'threat' to a court's ability to attract and retain employees," the ruling said. This is what the Supreme Court used as its benchmark to determine the salaries.

"To me it was a win-win for us," Councilman Jim Fulwider said. "The figures came back about where we had offered. I was very impressed with the Supreme Court taking the time to study the issues and make a very well-informed decision. I think most people didn't ever think a group of judges would rule against another set of judges. The Supreme Court proved those people wrong. They looked at the evidence and made a good decision. The employees got a raise, but it was in line with what it should have been, not some artificial figure."

According to Peterson the court employees will have their extra money by the end of the year and "more than likely, sooner than that."

"It will take some time to recalculate everything, but they will get their money as soon as we can get it to them," he said.

The county has until the end of 2008 to pay the judges' legal fees. Three equal installments are to be paid on Dec. 31, 2007, June 30, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2008. No appellate attorney fees were awarded. Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruled that Montgomery County Auditor Jeff Dossett was not in contempt after Ridlen found him in contempt earlier.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 28, 2007 08:34 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions