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Sneyd files appeal in lawsuit against county

Clerk and Master Brenda Sneyd is ready to go to trial over the 10 percent pay increase she insists Washington County owes her.
Sneyd is appealing the order granting summary judgment that dismissed her lawsuit against Washington County in August 2011. She continues to seek a 10 percent pay increase and the right to have her legal fees paid with county funds.
She is also requesting back pay from 2006, the year a 10 percent salary supplement was granted to Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn. Sneyd believes she should have received the same increase because they both operate more than one court.
Her argument, which began with the complaint Sneyd filed in September 2010, is founded on whether the county has the discretion to give a raise to one clerk but not the other. Sneyd says the state statute requires the county to give the raise to all clerks in the same classification.
Senior Judge Walter C. Kurtz, in his ruling for the county, noted the statute says no such thing. “There is nothing in the statute…that mandates that both clerks in the same county must receive the same salary,” Kurtz wrote in his order to dismiss Sneyd’s lawsuit.
Several months earlier, following a telephone hearing, Kurtz denied Sneyd’s request to have her legal fees paid with funds from the Office of the Clerk and Master. Because the lawsuit is about Sneyd’s pay rather than the functioning of her office or her official duties, Kurtz ruled her motion to employ counsel at government expense was not justified.
In his ruling for dismissal, Kurtz wrote, “The court has considered all other arguments by the plaintiff to be without merit.”
In Sneyd’s brief to the Tennessee Court of Appeals Eastern Division, she asks for a reversal of the lower Court’s decision.
Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said he still feels the position taken by the county is absolutely correct. “I believe the Appeals Court will agree,” he said. “I don’t expect any surprises.”
Sneyd’s counsel Arthur M. Fowler argues the only qualification the Legislature allows the county to consider in determining whether to grant the 10 percent increase is whether the clerk serves more than one court. The difference in the quality or quantity of work performed by the clerks cannot be a factor, according to Fowler.
Nor can the additional personal income Sneyd receives through her appointment as a Special Commissioner, which allows her to receive a 5 percent commission when delegated by the attorneys or families in probate cases to sell the real estate. Sneyd earned $142,561 during fiscal years 2006-2007 through 2009-2010, in addition to her annual salary of more than $73,000.
Fowler writes, “(Washington County’s) reasoning for denying equal compensation is that (Sneyd) would not remit to it the money she receives for serving as a court appointed Special Commissioner.”
Attorney Erick Herrin, counsel for Washington County, said Sneyd’s legal right to receive and keep Special Commissioner fees has never been disputed.
In his dismissal of the case, Kurtz wrote it is not irrational for the county’s legislative body to consider the additional income in making its decision regarding whether or not to grant the 10 percent raise.
“What they’re trying to get away from is the undeniable fact that Karen Guinn is running an operation that’s three times bigger,” Herrin said.
Fowler, in the brief, acknowledges the Circuit Court Clerk serves six judges (compared to Sneyd’s one), has more than twice the number of employees as the Clerk and Master, and has triple the budget.
Yet, Fowler writes, “the fatal flaw in this argument is that the statute does not authorize any such weighing and balancing…It simply states the increase shall be for the purpose of compensating the clerk for the additional duties and time required to serve multiple courts.
The conclusion states, “In the alternative, if this Court considers that the weighing and balancing test created by the lower Court should be adopted, the case should be remanded for trial.”
Washington County has 30 days to file a response.