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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ind. Courts - Judges shall receive "a compensation which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office."

That is a quote from Art. 7, sec. 19 of the Indiana Constitution. The ILB has had a number of posts over the years referencing this language. Grant Circuit Court Judge R. Thomas Hunt won a lawsuit based on this language in 2006. A story at the time reported:

According to court documents, Hunt submitted to the council the proposed budget for his salary, and the council refused to appropriate the funds for the 2006 rate. Hunt said the council went against the state constitution, which says a circuit court judge's salary cannot be reduced while he is in office, and the Blackford judge ruled in Hunt's favor.
Steuben County briefly considered such a move in 2008.

Now the ILB reads that Franklin County was considering such a reduction. John Estridge has the story in the Oct. 22nd Brookville American-Democrat. But it looks like the county will be paying attorney fees to Faegre Baker Daniels rather than reducing judges salaries. Some quotes:

Franklin County Auditor Steve Brack sent out the notices for the executive session. In the reason for the executive session, he put, “This meeting is being held regarding – Judge J. Steven Cox and Judge Clay Kellerman Unlawful Reduction in Supplemental County Salary Lawsuit.”

A letter sent to Jeff Koch, FCC president, from A. Scott Chin, an attorney with Faegre Baker Daniels, gives council a proposed resolution. If council does not agree to the proposed resolution in seven days after receiving the letter, then the judges intend to sue the county.

At issue is a supplement the county pays the two judges as well as the prosecutor and assistant prosecutor. It amounts to as much as $5,000 per year. * * *

It can be reduced from the $5,000 figure if the state gives the judges a raise.

County council did not appropriate any money for the judges or the prosecutors regarding the county’s portion of their pay.

Judges received $139,112 in the 2013-14 year.

Chin cites case law showing the judges cannot receive less in 2014-15 than they received in the previous year.

According to Franklin Circuit Court II Judge Clay Kellerman, making it so the county cannot reduce a judge’s pay is because the judiciary is a separate but equal branch of the government, and it preserves the independence and integrity of the judiciary.

Thus, the county cannot take punitive action against one or more of the judges within the county because of a decision by one or both of the judges. * * *

Counties can only stop the supplement when there is a change in judges or prosecutors, according to auditors from other counties.

“In light of the foregoing, the Judges would accept the following to resolve this matter and avoid the necessity of litigation,” Chin wrote. “The County shall: (1) appropriate and pay the $5,000 supplemental salaries due to each Judge for 2014 as soon as practicable yet in 2014; (2) amend the 2015 budget to appropriate the $5,000 supplemental salaries; and (3) pay the attorneys’ fees and costs the Judges have incurred in being forced to redress the Council’s violation.”

Chin’s letter then sets a deadline and possible action if the demands are not met.

“In the absence of the County’s willingness to accept these terms of settlement, the Judges reserve their rights to bring a lawsuit to remedy the County’s unlawful actions and will additionally seek liquidated damages under Ind. Code 22-2-5-2.

“This offer of compromise to address the Council’s illegal violations shall remain open for seven days following the Council’s receipt of the letter,” the letter continued. “In the absence of the Council’s agreement to these terms within that time period, the Judges shall move forward with a lawsuit.”

ILB: This shows, among other things, the value of the ILB archives.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on October 23, 2014 04:42 PM
Posted to Indiana Courts | Indiana Government