News and Tribune

February 14, 2013

Another suit filed between Jeffersonville court and clerk

Legal wrangling continues between Conlin and Pierce

By BRADEN LAMMERS
braden.lammers@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — A fight over control of court documents has fired back up between Jeffersonville’s City Court judge and the City clerk.

Clerk Vicki Conlin filed a request for an emergency restraining order against Jeffersonville City Court Judge Ken Pierce and one of his employees Stacy Kelly.

According to the petition and two affidavits by clerk’s office employees, records that are supposed to be maintained by the city clerk have been taken out of the office and the clerk’s employees have been subject to threats of intimidation.



Previous lawsuit

A dispute between Conlin and Pierce — which included a previous lawsuit being filed — existed as the transition of duties was set to take place as part of Jeffersonville’s switch from a third-class to a second-class city.

As a second class city, the clerk’s office is supposed to collect fines, fees and maintain records for the court. A dispute existed about which office would control the Probationary User Fee, or PUF funds, and where court funds would be collected.

But Pierce, after an initial agreement was reached, alleged that the court’s entire collection of ledgers containing financial records had been taken from his office without knowledge from him or his staff — an act Pierce called “unethical” and “reprehensible.”

Conlin subsequently admitted that she took the documents and had turned the financial information over to the City Controller Monica Harmon.

As a result , Pierce questioned the authenticity of the documents and requested a third-party audit to review the records.

The dispute eventually made its way to the Jeffersonville City Council at its last meeting of 2012, at which it denied moving forward on a third-party audit and it passed two resolutions that outlined the clerk’s duties. The council assigned the duties to collect PUF funds to the clerk as well as an approval for shared office space for the city court and the clerk’s office. Pierce was against the approval on both issues.



Turnabout isn’t fair play

But now that documents have gone missing out of Conlin’s office, the clerk is crying foul.

She filed, in Clark County Circuit Court No. 1, a request for an emergency restraining order and injunction to keep the documents in her office and to be able to carry out her statutory duties. An order to appoint a special judge was granted Thursday. A judge will have to be appointed to the case before the petition moves forward.

“We’re performing the duties as best as we can but a lot of our case files have disappeared,” Conlin said.

Larry Wilder, Conlin’s attorney, said the petition was filed in order to allow her to do her job.

“Unfortunately, she has been kept from doing the clerk’s job by virtue of the judge having his bailiff serve as the clerk of the court,” he said. “Ms. Conlin doesn’t want to violate the law and wants a judge to make it clear who the clerk of the court is once again. Right now, the original dockets for three years have been removed [from her office].”

When contacted by the News and Tribune about the lawsuit, Pierce said “I’ve been advised by counsel not to comment on pending litigation.”

But Wilder proffered a theory as to why the records were taken and are allegedly being held by the city court.

“The judge believes that the bailiff should be in the courtroom, taking records like a court reporter,” he said. “City courts are allowed to be created by the city council or the town board, so they are very different [from state courts]. I think the judge perceives this more as though its a constitutionally created ... court, when the reality is it’s created by statute. It’s a whole different set of laws.”



Affidavit allegations

Two affidavits also were submitted as part of the court filing by city clerk employees — Jennifer Boyd and Jamie Miller. In both affidavits, claims were made against Pierce and Kelly that they have subjected the employees to intimidation and verbal assaults.

“During the two years of employment by the judge I, along with my colleagues, were subject to regular verbal assaults wherein the judge engaged in screaming rants and raves,” according to Boyd’s affidavit. “[They] would include tirades questioning our loyalty, threats to fire or discharge the staff and general acts of intimidation.”

Miller’s affidavit included similar allegations and was noted as the reason why she had not approached the judge and attempted to perform the clerk’s functions in court.

Boyd’s affidavit also said that she witnessed Kelly remove the dockets from the clerk’s office. After the incident, she notified Conlin that the dockets were taken and that the Pierce refused to return the records to the clerk.

“I have not approached Ms. Kelly about performing my assigned job duties for fear of retaliation, retribution and verbal assault form the judge,” according to her affidavit.

When asked about the incidents, Pierce again said he could not comment at the advice of his attorney.