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JPs vote to pay lawsuit settlement

With little discussion, Lonoke County justices of the peace voted Thursday to begin paying a settlement in a lawsuit brought by the City of Lonoke, with Carlisle being paid on the same basis to head off a potential court action from that city. The action was taken during the regular court meeting held Feb. 20.

County Judge Doug Erwin and justices of the peace Brent Canon, B.J Weathers, Henry Lang, Darrin Waymack, Tim Lemons, Lee Linville, Michael Verkler, Roger Lynch, Bill Ryker, Mike Dolan, Matt Sanders and Larry Odom attended the meeting.

Payment to Lonoke and Carlisle for 2012 and 2013 district court costs totals about $88,500, with Carlisle’s portion about $45,500 and Lonoke $23,000. A remainder of about $30,000 takes the total to about $130,000.

The payment is funds due to Lonoke and Carlisle as a result of a decision in a lawsuit brought against the county by the City of Lonoke, claiming the county was required to pay half the costs of operating a district court.

The two-year battle mounted by Lonoke came to an end Jan. 9 when the county’s plea for a re-hearing was denied.

The court challenge, presented by Lonoke City Attorney Camille Bennett, held that the county’s interpretation of state law was incorrect because of a prior settlement made between Lonoke, Carlisle and Lonoke County in previous challenges of district court expenses made in 1989 and again in 1999.

In turn, though not a party to the most recent lawsuit, the City of Carlisle in November 2013 billed the county for district court expenses based on the agreements underscored in Lonoke’s lawsuit. The bill was not answered at that time.

At the Jan. 20, 2014 Carlisle City Council meeting, city attorney Mike Stuart said he had learned that the county agreed, based on the ruling, that funds are owed the city, and there was no need for Carlisle pursue its own lawsuit against the county.

At the Carlisle City Council meeting, Stuart said the city would not be paid before February.

The lawsuit was on the county’s interpretation of a law change, effective Jan. 1, 2012. That change stated that, with few exceptions, the county in which a district court is held has to pay half the salaries of the district judge and each chief court clerk of any district court in the county.

In the law, the quorum courts are directed to appropriate the funds needed to pay the county’s portion of the expenses of any district court in the county. On Dec. 12, 2011, the 2012 county budget was approved by the quorum court without the funds needed for the district courts, thinking that under the new law, the county was no longer required to support the district court expenses.

A decision agreeing with the stand by the City of Lonoke was made in November 2012, but in January 2013 the county appealed the verdict to the court of appeals. In November 2013, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the City of Lonoke, and the county responded on Dec. 2, 2013 with a petition for a rehearing. The denial came on Jan. 9, 2014.

Lonoke requested payment of $103,060.53, as well as the salaries for 2014. This includes the 2013 operating expenses of $16,281.33, which the county is bill for in 2014; $43,748.62 for the judge and clerks salaries for 2014; $43,030.58 for outstanding invoices from 2011, 2012 and 2013 .

According to Carlisle budget figures presented to the county during the previous year, the Carlisle was owed $22,798.49 for 2012 and $22,652.58 for 2013 for a total of $45,451.07 in unpaid debt from the county. The 2014 budget reflects a total of $53,415.27 also due to the city.

In other matters, the court approved a measure declaring the District 7 Justice of the Peace position as vacant due to the resignation last month of Adam Sims. The governor will not appoint a successor to serve the remainder of Sims’ term, which will expire Dec. 31, 2014.

Ryker reported that the personnel committee is continuing considerations of how to improve Courthouse security. Entry controls would likely be a card-swipe system, with either the north or south entry designated the main entrance. The front doors are inconvenient as an entry and would likely remain unused except on special occasions, he said.

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