Court upholds decision in Sneyd case
By Karen Sells
The three judges who considered Sneyd’s appeal during an April 18 hearing in Knoxville affirmed the trial court’s opinion that the county did not abuse its discretion in denying Sneyd the same 10 percent increase in compensation it awarded to Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn in 2006.
The county contends the decision is discretionary and based on the differences between Sneyd’s and Guinn’s roles, including the number of courts served, annual cases filed, employees supervised and the size of the budgets that must be managed.
Sneyd argues she did not receive the raise because of the fees she earns as special commissioner, and said the fact that she and Guinn both serve more than one court requires the county to provide the same increase.
While the county has never disputed Sneyd’s right to keep the fees she earns as a special commissioner, attorney Erick Herrin has questioned whether she should be earning personal income during the same hours she is working as and being paid to be a county employee.
Sneyd said she earned more than $142,000 [from 2006-2010] for her work as a special commissioner, which includes selling real estate at the request of families in Probate Court.
According to the Court of Appeals opinion, Sneyd said she does on occasion perform special commissioner duties for which she collects personal income during the hours when the Clerk and Master’s Office is open for business.
“We agree that based on the uncontested facts presented, the scope of the duties and responsibility associated with the Circuit Court Clerk position is far greater than those associated with the Clerk and Master position,” the ruling reads. “Accordingly, the county had a rational basis for increasing the Circuit Court Clerk’s salary pursuant to the (state) code, and not increasing Ms. Sneyd’s salary.”
Herrin, counsel for Washington County, said the court’s ruling solves only part of the problem.
“The Court of Appeals opinion resolves Ms. Sneyd’s pay issue. It does not resolve the more serious issue related to the operation of the Clerk and Master’s office. That issue is an ethical one,” Herrin said. “Should Ms. Sneyd be permitted to use the county’s public office and resources to any extent whatsoever in her pursuit of private income as a special commissioner?”
The Court of Appeals also affirmed the trial court’s decision to deny Sneyd’s request to have her attorney’s fees paid with county funds.
Sneyd now has the option to appeal to the Supreme Court of Tennessee, though a hearing is neither automatic nor a right.
Sneyd has 60 days to appeal the ruling. If filed, the Supreme Court will decide whether the case merits a hearing.
If the Supreme Court chooses not to hear the case, the Court of Appeals ruling stands.
Calls to Sneyd’s counsel, Art Fowler, were not returned.