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County Commission prevails in sheriff’s suit over fees

A Gasconade County judge has ruled in favor of the Cole County Commission in Sheriff Greg White’s lawsuit over fees.

Circuit Judge John Berkemeyer ruled this week against White’s motion to prohibit the commission from taking administrative/professional service fees out of the county’s law enforcement sales tax.

“We are gratified the judge saw it our way,” said Presiding Commissioner Marc Ellinger. “We think it’s good for taxpayers.

“Hopefully we put this behind us and move forward.”

Clifford Cornell, a Jefferson City lawyer representing White in the case, said Friday afternoon he still was studying Berkemeyer’s ruling.

“We’re considering all our available options,” he said.

The suit was filed in 2010, prior to the new jail opening.

The voter-approved sales tax was implemented in January 2008 and, at the time the suit was filed, the commission had billed $855,084 for the fees.

Without that money being available to law enforcement, White said in the lawsuit, the county wouldn’t be able to operate the new jail.

Voters passed the sales tax in August 2007 to fund and operate the sheriff’s office and the jail.

White contended the commission didn’t have the legal authority to “obtain, divert or cause to be diverted, request, receive or use” money taken or obtained from the law enforcement sales tax fund for any purpose other than law enforcement.

The commission asked the court to dismiss the suit and deny any of White’s allegations.

The commission said White’s claims were barred, since the sheriff had submitted budgets from 2008-10 “with the administrative fee” and, therefore, could not seek legal relief for the “actions in which he has voluntarily engaged.”

They also contended White was aware of, cooperated in and did not challenge the assessment of the fees until he filed the suit, while the commission relied on White’s previous acquiescence to the fees in determining the county’s budgets for 2008 and 2009.

The case originally was assigned to Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem, but he recused himself.

Presiding Circuit Judge Pat Joyce then asked the Missouri Supreme Court to assign a special judge, and they appointed Berkemeyer.

Both parties waived making oral arguments to the judge.

His ruling was based on their written arguments.

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