The Morgan County Commission will be paying a flat fee of $5,000 for its appeal of a judge's ruling to award $93,600 in back pay plus interest to Morgan County Treasurer Louella Pryor.
According to Morgan County Western District Commissioner Wayne Kroeschen, the $5,000 will cover the appeal through the Western District Appellate Court.
The county commission has hired local attorney Michael McDorman to argue their case.
The money comes on top of legal fees totaling $27,638.70 already expended by the county commission in legal counsel regarding negotiations and to fight the case in circuit court.
According to Morgan County Clerk Cathy Daniels, the total covers three years of consultation and court time from 2011 when the issue first arose and Pryor attempted to negotiate a settlement with the county commission to 2013 when retired Howard County Circuit Court Judge Ralph Jaynes ruled in Pryor's favor.
Prior to McDorman taking on the appeal, the county's regular attorney, Ivan Schraeder of St. Louis, contracted by the commission through the Missouri Association of Counties, acted as the attorney of record on the case. He charged the county a rate of $230 per hour, according to Daniels.
In a two to one vote Oct. 17, the county commission voted to appeal the judge's decision.
Presiding Commissioner James Vaughan has said that the commission believes the judge's interpretation of statutes was not correct and that they can ultimately save money by appealing.
He and Kroeschen voted to appeal the decision while Eastern District Commissioner Rodney Schad voted against it.
Schad has said he had been advised by a couple of attorneys that the appeal was unlikely to be successful.
Upset by the decision to appeal, Pryor said the issue has become personal — a vendetta against her because she stood up for herself and sought the back pay in court after the commission refused to negotiate a settlement.
Since filing the lawsuit in April 2012, Pryor has said she has been suffering in a hostile work environment, but commissioners have refused to address the issue.
Jaynes granted Pryor's motion for summary judgement on Oct. 2.
From 2003-2010, Pryor received a salary of $33,300 per year. According to the ruling, her salary should have been $45,000 a year.
The judgement awarded Pryor the difference in pay for those years — $93,600 — with interest. Pryor was to be allowed to make contributions to her retirement plan retrospectively for those years based on the salary of $45,000, and the county commission was ordered to make contributions to Pryor's retirement plan in an amount equal to the amount that would have been paid for those years based on the $45,000 salary.
Pryor attempted to negotiate a lesser settlement prior to filing the lawsuit, but the county commission refused to settle.
Page 2 of 2 - Pryor subsequently filed suit, and Judge Jaynes was appointed to take the case after two Morgan County judges recused themselves.
Jaynes ruled that Pryor was owed 100 percent of the state-mandated maximum salary for all eight years because of a 1997 vote by salary commission to set all officials' salaries at the full rate. The $33,300 was only 74 percent of state-mandated maximum, according to the ruling, though the decision to set salaries at 100 percent was never altered by subsequent salary commissions.
In a statement following the court's decision, Vaughan argued, "In 2003 the language of one of the state statutes that governs the Salary Commission stated that her salary MAY increase to $45,000.00. Again, there was no motion made to that affect. In 2007, the language changed to SHALL increase to $45,000. Still with no motion made during the Salary Commission meeting, Mrs. Pryor was given the increase at the beginning of her new term in 2011."
According to Vaughan, the county commission acted under the advisement of their attorney who assured them that, due to the statute of limitations, Pryor would not be able to collect more than four years of back, if even that.
The judgement also ruled that the five year statute of limitations did not apply in this case because Missouri courts have consistently ruled that a cause of unpaid compensation does not accrue until the last date on which services are performed or when employment is terminated.