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Sides make arguments in Washington County Clerk and Master pay suit

August 17th, 2011 6:43 am by Heather Richardson

Washington County’s Clerk and Master is arguing the county is unconstitutional in differentiating between her and the Circuit Court Clerk by not providing both clerks with a 10 percent raise.

Clerk and Master Brenda Sneyd filed a suit against the county, claiming she is entitled to the same raise that her counterpart, Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn, received. Sneyd is not only asking for the raise but for back pay beginning in 2006, when Guinn received the raise.

The judge hearing the case is Judge Walter C. Kurtz.

In a hearing Tuesday morning, Sneyd’s attorney, Art Fowler, claimed state statute classifies the two clerks together, and therefore their salary should be as well.

“I think it was a violation of the constitution for the county not to give a raise to Ms. Sneyd when it gave a raise to the County Court Clerk,” Fowler told Kurtz.

Erick Herrin, the attorney representing Washington County in this case, claimed, however, that there is “an abundance of bases” for the county commission to choose not to provide Sneyd with the 10 percent raise. Part of his justification is the fact that the Circuit Court Clerk manages more than three times as many employees as the Clerk and Master and has a budget nearly three times as large.

Fowler stated that the classification code did not take into consideration the clerks’ duties, only the population of the county and how many courts they oversee.

Herrin has also previously questioned whether any of Sneyd’s time as Clerk and Master or any other county resources are used to collect special commissioner fees, which Sneyd is allowed to keep as personal profit.

“The reason we are being taken into this constitutional argument is because it’s the only ground that Mr. Fowler can find to make his argument,” Herrin said. “There seems to be no dispute on the statutory construction analysis. There seems to be no dispute of any factual proof that we have put forth on behalf of Washington County for our rational basis for sharp distinction between the Circuit Court Clerk office operations and Clerk and Master operations. Absent his ability to challenge any of that is why we are going into constitutional realm to begin with.”

Fowler contended that though the anti-fee statute allows fees collected as special commissioner to be kept, the county is retaliating against Sneyd’s choice to do so by not giving her the 10 percent raise which, according to statute, may be given to clerks overseeing two or more courts.

“If Ms. Sneyd is going to accept special commissioner fees, then Washington County is going to attach some consequences to that. This is their plea. This is what they’ve said,” Fowler told the judge.

Kurtz told the parties he would submit his decision by written memorandum.

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