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County responds to Sneyd lawsuit

Clerk and Master Brenda Sneyd might be suing Washington County for more money, but lawyers, in defending the lawsuit, are taking her to task.
And following Monday’s county commission meeting, it seems the lawsuit could soon be null and void.
Sneyd filed the lawsuit in September, arguing she deserved to be paid as much as her counterpart, Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn.
According to Sneyd, Guinn was awarded a 10 percent pay increase several years ago based on a state law that says clerks can be given the raise if they operate in more than one court.
Sneyd argued her salary also should have been increased at the time Guinn received a raise, since she not only works in the Chancery Court, but also in Probate Court.
“I do 99 percent of Probate Court,” Sneyd said. “I have two full-time jobs.”
Following a 50-minute executive session at Monday morning’s commission meeting, commissioners returned to their regular session with a motion to possibly eliminate that so-called second job from Sneyd’s duties.
Commissioner Sam Humphreys made the motion, which was seconded by Commissioner Ken Lyon, to consider moving Probate Court under the umbrella of either Circuit Court or Sessions Court instead of under Chancery Court.
Both Circuit and Sessions courts are parts of Guinn’s duties.
“The placement of probate duties is determined by the Chancellor. We, as commissioners, would like to see, maybe, some control over where those functions go,” Commissioner David Tomita said, explaining the request for considering a private act to transfer the jurisdiction of Probate Court. “We want to make sure it’s in the right office.”
When asked whether the recommendation to move Probate Court was a direct result of Sneyd’s lawsuit, Tomita said it was a matter of efficiency.
“Whether we do it today or 10 years from now, it will always be viewed as a reaction to the lawsuit,” Tomita said. “But once you start looking at these kinds of things, you might as well be thorough so it doesn’t come up again. If we can do it more efficiently, then we’d like to take a look at that.”
Meanwhile, on Friday, Attorney Erick Herrin, representing Washington County, filed a response to Sneyd’s lawsuit, calling her efforts to get a bigger paycheck “disingenuous at best.”
After filing the suit, Sneyd told the Herald & Tribune she believed she was being treated unfairly because she is appointed rather than elected to her office.
She also claimed county commissioners took issue with her sometimes acting as a special commissioner to perform real estate transactions.
According to Herrin, 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.
“Commissioners argue the money I make through that goes toward my pay,” Sneyd said. “But it has nothing to do with my salary. It doesn’t come from the county.”
County officials seem to disagree.
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.
Herrin also took issue with Sneyd filing her lawsuit as the Clerk and Master of the county instead of as an individual. By doing so, Sneyd’s attorney fees are paid by the county.
The county argues Sneyd should not be acting as Clerk and Master when filing a lawsuit seeking a personal benefit, and therefore should not have her attorney fees paid by the county.
“The underlying legal rationale to an award of attorney fees is that a plaintiff initiated the litigation to ‘administer and conserve funds held in public trust,’” Herrin wrote in the response. “Ms. Sneyd does not, nor can she, allege that her suit has been filed for such an altruistic purpose.”