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Chancellor recuses self from Sneyd lawsuit against county

Chancellor Richard Johnson has recused himself from presiding over a lawsuit in which his clerk is suing Washington County for a 10 percent raise in pay.
Clerk and Master Brenda Sneyd filed the suit earlier this year, claiming she was entitled to the pay increase because her counterpart, Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn, was given a similar raise several years ago for operating in more than one court. Guinn works in both the Circuit and Sessions courts in Washington County.
According to Sneyd, who operates in Chancery Court as well as Probate Court, state law allows for such raises, but does not give the county the right to give the raise to one court clerk and not the other.
Washington County leaders have taken issue with Sneyd’s request, particularly because of the additional income she already is receiving by acting as a special commissioner in real estate actions for the county.
Sneyd, who was appointed to her role as Clerk and Master by Johnson, is also asked by Johnson to handle certain real estate transactions.
According to Erick Herrin, the attorney representing Washington County in the lawsuit, the Chancery Court of Washington County has appointed no one other than Sneyd, since 2006, as a special commissioner for the sale of property within the county and under jurisdiction of Chancery Court.
During the last four years, Sneyd has reportedly made more than $142,500 in compensation for her work as a special commissioner.
While the money Sneyd makes as a special commissioner may not come directly from the county, Herrin suggests she uses time during her regular job as Clerk and Master to engage in activities associated with her work as special commissioner.
The response also alleges some of Sneyd’s employees, as well as other county employees, have performed work related to her endeavors as special commissioner while being paid by the county.
In fact, Herrin filed a request for admissions back in October, asking Sneyd to answer several questions related to her activity as a special commissioner, including inquiries about how much time she spends during her regular job working on duties related to her role as special commissioner.
In November, Sneyd’s lawyer, Arthur Fowler, objected to answering the questions, calling them irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial.
On Dec. 20, Herrin filed a motion to compel, essentially requesting a court order directing Sneyd to answer the questions. He also filed paperwork to make Sneyd pay the additional court costs the county endured to make her answer the questions.
“We’ve already answered those questions,” Sneyd said when contacted about the new filings in the case. “This is just a crock, is what this is.”
According to Fowler, his client did answer the questions.
“Mr. Herrin was not pleased with our answers and requested additional information,” Fowler said.
Now that a new judge has been appointed to hear the case — Chancellor Thomas Frierson, of the 3rd District — Fowler said he hopes to see the case move forward.
“I’m trying to get with Mr. Herrin to try to get a date set to have some of these motions heard. We need to get in front of the new chancellor,” Fowler said. “Now that we have a judge, there will be several issues that will be taken up.”
Both attorneys hope to be in front of the new judge some time in early 2011 to address the lawsuit.