Jan. 14, 2013 — In a move Carter County Attorney Patrick Flannery called “retaliatory,” Judge-Executive Charles Wallace paid outside attorney fees with money that was originally slated to go to Flannery and his child support staff.
According to financial records presented each month to the fiscal court, $1,500 was paid to Richard “Sonny” Martin, the attorney who represented the county in recent litigation, on Nov. 21. Scott White, an attorney representing the fiscal court in another legal battle, was paid $1,287.55 on Dec. 19. Both of those payments were taken from the budget line item labeled “legal services.” Until the current fiscal year, that line item was labeled “County attorney salary.”
Wallace confirmed all bills come through his office, and his staff assigns the account for which a bill should be paid based on the corresponding department. This task is completed by staff, not the county treasurer.
The Journal-Times discovered the irregularity and asked Flannery for comment.
“I can see why they would use the line item called ‘legal services’ in order to pay the outside attorneys,” Flannery said. “The issue for later is ‘Where is that money going to come from?’”
When the budget was passed in June, the legal services line item had $24,000, which is what the county attorney is to be paid. Flannery said even if the fiscal court wanted to, it could not cut his salary to pay outside legal counsel.
Flannery was more concerned with a payment made to White on Oct. 17. According to the treasurer’s report, $848.59 was paid to White, but came out of the budget line item slated to pay the salaries of the county’s child support workers.
In the past, the county acted as a financing agent for the child support payroll. Essentially, according to Flannery, the county would pay the child support staff and be reimbursed with state funds once Flannery had submitted the necessary information.
“No funds have been taken from the state, but the county did take money from an account that is restricted,” Flannery said. “Even if there is no legal wrongdoing here, I think it is highly inappropriate to use restricted child support accounts to pay attorney bills. Even if they are mad at me, they shouldn’t do that.”
Flannery said he believed there was no confusion as to the accounts the money came from, rather it was intentionally taken as retaliation for his suing the county for an alleged open-meetings violation during its May 29 meeting.
“When I talked to the county treasurer about it, she explained how the bills were handled,” Flannery said. “I think it would be hard to confuse the account numbers.”
Flannery said he can no longer trust the county to take care of payroll for child support and will, beginning this month, start handling it within his own office.
When asked about the payments, Wallace said the payment from the child support account was a mistake that would be corrected at the next meeting. Wallace also confirmed the county no longer handled child support payroll. He could not, however, definitively say when the county had relinquished the responsibility. During the conversation, Wallace claimed it had be more than “a year or so,” “six to eight months” and “several months” since the county had done child support payroll.
Flannery said he was unaware any payments had been made to outside legal counsel before the Journal-Times brought it to his attention.
Each member of the fiscal court is presented with a treasurer’s report during regular monthly meetings. After evaluating those given to Flannery and those given to the magistrates, it was discovered the two reports were different.
“It raises a lot of questions. It is more work to make a second book than it is to print off another copy of the same book,” Flannery said. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to keep vital information from the county attorney.”
LEEANN AKERS is managing editor of the Grayson Journal Enquirer and Olive Hill Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 474-5101.