Downtown Kokomo

Pictured is the Howard County Courthouse on June 16, 2017. Tim Bath | Kokomo Tribune

Trial dates have been set in the ongoing dispute between Judge William Menges and the Howard County Council over whether four court employees should receive pay raises.

A trial was scheduled for Oct. 1 and 2 during a telephonic conference Tuesday, according to Howard County Attorney Alan Wilson.

The trial will include witnesses and exhibits offered into evidence, and while the case’s special judge could issue a ruling at the end of trial Wilson said “it is much more likely that the matter will be taken under advisement and a ruling issued at a later date.”

Indianapolis attorney W. Tobin McClamroch was appointed as special judge last month by the Indiana Supreme Court. He will hear the case in Howard County.

The need for a trial emerged in May following a failed mediation session between the council and Menges, who presides over Howard Superior Court 1.  

The Indiana Supreme Court in March ordered the two sides “in the interest of judicial economy” to mediate the dispute, which hinges on a pursuit by Menges for more than $17,000 in employee raises.

But a resolution in the case – despite the fact both sides are being funded with taxpayer dollars – was not reached.

The controversy kicked into gear on Feb. 27 when Menges filed an “order for mandate of funds” that set into motion a court battle about whether four of his employees deserve raises that Menges believes would more equitably compensate the workers.

One day earlier, on Feb. 26, a request from Menges for $13,741 in raises was denied by the council. Menges bumped that total to $17,730 in his order.

The February denial, which happened without a vote after council members refused to even second a motion on the potential raises, was not the first time council members have refused Superior Court 1 raises.

The council previously denied a raise request in February 2018 during a period when concerns from Menges about his court’s workload helped spark a revamping of the Howard County court system.

Council members have continuously cited the county’s attrition program, which rewards remaining employees in departments that do not replace exiting workers, and Menges’ lack of participation in the program as the reason for their denials.

They say the reason other courthouse employees are paid more than Menges’ workers is because they have taken on additional work through the attrition program.

However, Menges is now mandating a bump for his court reporter of $4,397, which would bring the salary to $42,789. In conjunction, he has listed a need of $13,333 for his three assistant court reporters, which would bring their salaries to $40,456 each.

The salaries he has requested would put his employees on equal footing with Superior Court 3 employees.

Menges wrote in his order that the raises “will not have an adverse effect on a specific fiscal or other interest of Howard County” and are “reasonable and necessary in order to carry out the functions of the court.”

Most notably, Menges said that without the additional funds his court “is facing a clear and present danger of not being able to perform its functions and duties.”

He has insisted that his employees work “harder and longer than the other employees in the courthouse and [get] paid less.”

George Myers can be reached at 765-454-8585, by email at george.myers@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @gmyerskt.

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George Myers covers city and county government. He joined the Kokomo Tribune on November 18, 2014.