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Jefferson Co. clerk won't drop suit against commissioners

August 13, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Jefferson County Clerk Jennifer Maghan said Thursday she wouldn't drop a lawsuit against the County Commissioners even if they restored more than $48,000 they cut from her budget earlier this year.

On a 3-2 vote Thursday afternoon, the commissioners decided not to give Maghan's office the money.

Maghan's budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 is $400,000. She requested $480,500 to run the county clerk's office.

The commissioners originally allotted $448,188 for Maghan's department, but faced with a deficit during budget deliberations, they cut that amount by $48,188.

"My budget has been cut two years in a row," she said.

When the commissioners learned there would be $3 million left over from the fiscal year ending June 30, they decided to use $1.3 million to reinstate some of the cuts, according to Maghan's suit.

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The money cut from Maghan's budget was not reinstated, according to the suit.

A vote last week by the commissioners postponed action on a request by Maghan to restore the funding, and she hired attorney Sherman Lambert Sr. to file suit against the commissioners. Lambert filed the papers Tuesday.

The suit, which seeks the original request of $480,500, claims the commissioners "arbitrarily and capriciously" slashed more than $48,000 from the salaries of the county clerk's office in an alleged attempt to balance their budget for fiscal year 2009-10.

The suit called the commissioners' actions a "thinly veiled attempt" to control the county clerk's office to the detriment of its employees and citizens.

Maghan said she would not drop the suit until she gets the full amount. She further vowed to appeal if she loses in the first round of court.

Her suit also seeks attorney's fees. She told the commissioners she has no money in her budget to pay Lambert. So far, she is responsible only for a $100 retainer fee. Lambert's fee to handle the case will be $300 an hour, Maghan said.

A court battle could get expensive. The Jefferson County Prosecutor's office, which handles such cases for the commissioners, has to step aside from this one because it involves two county entitites. The commissioners will have to hire an outside attorney.

Commissioners Dale Manuel and Lyn Widmyer voted to reinstate the money requested by Maghan. Commissioners Patsy Noland, James Surkamp and Frances Morgan voted against restoring the money.

"We simply can't cave in," Morgan said.

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