Judge to council: Appropriate the funds

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Connersville News Examiner on April 2, 2017 by James Sprague

BROOKVILLE — A Franklin County judge and the Franklin County council once again find themselves at odds over a particular subject – money.

Franklin Circuit Judge J. Steven Cox, this past week, filed an order for mandate of funds against the Franklin County Council, based on the council’s decision in March to only approve $67,940 in an additional appropriation to the county’s probation office, instead of the judge’s original amount requested of $400,093.

Cox, per his filing, was requesting the additional appropriation of $400,093 due to the county council only appropriating enough funds in the 2017 budget, for the county’s probation department and the salaries of the two officers in the department.

The funds were being sought by Cox to also pay for a second court reporter, a probation department secretary and a third probation officer position, in addition to any supplies or operating costs for the probation department. The funds, per Cox’s filing, were to come from the Probation User Fees budget line, which is a non-tax line.

County Council denied his request at their March meeting to appropriate the entire amount, instead only appropriating enough funds to keep the probation department going until Cox appeared in front of the council and detailed how the remaining funds would specifically be spent.

With his filing this week, however, Cox is now seeking for the funds to be come from the county’s General Fund, which is taxpayer-funded, and also states that for the past two decades, he has made similar budget requests to come from the Probation User Fees fund, with no issues.

“This County Council has demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of how these funds can operate to the benefit of the taxpayer, or worse, a complete indifference to the relief to taxpayers these funds afford by refusing to allow the Court to utilize its own funds to the relief of the tax-paying public,” Cox wrote in his filing.

Cox seeks relief via Indiana Trial Rule 60.5, which covers orders for mandate of funds. It isn’t the first time Cox has challenged the county council regarding funding, as he and the council found themselves at odds two years ago over supplemental judges pay for both Cox and fellow Franklin Circuit Court Judge Clay Kellerman. That situation was resolved before being taken to court.

Regarding the current situation with Cox and the county council, Thomas Carusillo, senior counsel for the Indiana Supreme Court’s Office of Judicial Administration, said the next step in the process is for the matter to go to trial.

When a mandate is filed, the court notifies the Supreme Court so that a special judge can be appointed to hear the case,” he told the News-Examiner last week. “This sometimes takes a while because the rule requires that the special judge be an attorney – not a judge or former judge – who does not reside or practice in the county involved or a contiguous county. The trial of the matter is without a jury.”