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More Drama In Second Circuit Budget Dispute

By Echo Menges

For the better part of this year Adair and Lewis County Commissioners and Second Circuit Judge Russell E. Steele have been at odds about the circuit’s 2014 budget.

An agreement could not be made between the parties themselves near the beginning of the year when county commissions commonly approve the budgets of county entities and repeated attempts to reach an agreement, concerning the Second Circuit Budget, failed.

The Adair and Lewis County Commissioners eventually passed the matter on to the Missouri Judicial Finance Commission in February.

Following the February filing, the Judicial Finance Commission made repeated attempts to usher a settlement between the parties, but negotiations continued to fail.

The discourse between the two sides has since grown.

After months of failed negotiations, mounting animosity between the parties and the unwillingness of the Judicial Finance Commission to step in and make a decision on the budgetary issues between the counties and the Second Circuit Judge, on September 11, 2014, Judge Steele filed a separate petition asking the court to order the Adair County Commissioners Carson Adams, Mark Thompson and Stanley Pickens, Clerk Sandra Collop and Treasurer Lori Smith not to interfere with appointments and contracts entered into between the Juvenile Court and various attorneys hired to represent juveniles and indigent parents involved in Juvenile Court proceedings. Over $30,000 in unpaid Juvenile Court related attorneys’ fees and the salary of the Adair County Drug Court Case Manager was left hanging in the balance.

On Wednesday, October 8, 2014, the judge assigned to the case, Special Judge Gary Oxenhandler, ordered the Adair County officials to pay the Juvenile Court attorneys and to pay a portion of the Drug Court Case Manager’s salary. Judge Oxenhandler’s order spoke to the importance of maintaining operations of the Drug Court program and providing legal council for juveniles and parents without determining any of the disputed matters, leaving those for the Judicial Finance Commission to decide.

But that’s not all that happened that day.

The very same day, nearly eight months since the matter was originally filed with Judicial Finance Commission, the Judicial Finance Commission filed their decision too, which was partially in favor of the county commissioners.

The seven-page document filed by the Judicial Finance Commission is titled “Statement of the Case, Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Decision” and states, “the commission finds 2014 circuit court budget requests to Adair and Lewis Counties to be unreasonable.”

The Judicial Finance Commission also determined there was no agreement between the counties and the Second Circuit to allow excess revenue from the Bruce Normile Juvenile Justice center to accumulate without limit. Approximately $480,000 in accumulated reserves have been collected by the juvenile center.

It is unknown at this time which of these documents were filed first and if Judge Oxenhandler’s order will stand since the order to pay the attorneys and partially pay the Drug Court Case Manager’s salary was temporary upon the decision of the Judicial Finance Commission, which was filed the same day.

Even so, with all of that being said, adding to the saga of the dispute, the decision of the Judicial Finance Commission has one more round of appeals. If any of the parties, Judge Steele or any of the Adair or Lewis County Commissioners, disagree with the Judicial Finance Commission’s decision they can appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court. If that happens the fate of the Second Circuit’s budget and the buck will surely and finally stop with the Missouri Supreme Court Justices.

“It is a first step to resolving a huge issue. The county is extremely pleased with the decision of the Judicial Finance Commission. There is still litigation pending and we won’t know until it’s all complete,” said the attorney representing the county commissioners, Ivan L. Schraeder.

All parties involved in these matters have been advised by their attorneys not to speak to the press.

Read the findings for yourself by clicking on the links below.

Judge Oxenhandler’s Order Filed 10-8-14

Judicial Finance Commission Decision Filed 10-8-14