Legal arguments in a lawsuit filed by five county officials seeking to reinstate their health insurance benefits were made by attorney Bernard J. Hessley and Warren County Solicitor Barry Klenowski before Judge Maureen Skerda on Thursday.
Both Hessley and Klenowski reached stipulations before court proceedings to include only legal arguments that will conclude with a judgment by Skerda on the pleadings.
Hessley filed action for a declaratory judgment on behalf of County Auditors David Pirillo, Nikita Rugg and Suzanne Swanson, and Jury Commissioners Linda Hessley and Richard Campbell on Feb. 10.
In court documents, he said the county commissioners denied hospitalization, prepaid prescription, health insurance, life insurance, and dental insurance to the jury commissioners and the auditors and "no other elected officials' salaries and/or benefits were reduced and/or eliminated" without reason during a public meeting on Dec. 7, 2010.
The salaries of the jury commissioners were reduced and the auditors received a raise in salary between 2012 and 2015, Hessley said in paperwork.
The officials had also asked the county to reinstate the jury commissioners' salaries with the same raise granted to other elected officers, award legal fees and compensation from all liability starting January 2, 2012, the first date of the term of office, "and any cost incurred by the Petitioners for any type of medical, dental or vision services which should have been covered under the benefit package offered to other elected officers of the County."
Before argument, Hessley said a stipulation they had agreed upon was that both positions "are independently elected and are not employees of the county" and the county commissioners do not "directly supervise either the auditors or jury commissioners in the performance of their duties."
Hessley said during argument that the county code states "any salary increase shall be on a percentage basis and apply equally to all county officials" and "if you give a salary increase, everybody gets it."
Whether the officials were working full-time or not was not at issue, Hessley said, adding there is nothing stipulating the county commissioners must work 35 to 40 hours a week and in the past some haven't shown up for weeks and were not denied benefits.
"My position is you cannot differentiate between county commissioners and other duly elected county officers," he said. "I believe the remedy is the salary decrease should be rescinded."
Klenowski said during argument Thursday there are previous cases with the "identical factual situation" and that the case should be thrown out.
Part of the stipulations they agreed on were full-time employees work 35 hours per week with a work day reflecting a seven-hour period; and part-time employees work 20 hours or less per week and "this classification receives no fringe benefits" as defined in the Warren County employee handbook, Klenowski said.
Further stipulations included that the officials didn't work 35 hours per week; are the only officials that did not work 35 hours per week; and the auditors and jury commissioners are "on-call positions."
Klenowski said in court documents the "Commissioners voted to eliminate benefits in an effort to reduce the amount of money being spent by the County on part-time employee fringe benefits" and the benefits for the jury commissioner and auditor positions were chosen "since these positions are substantially similar to part-time employment, as defined in the 2010 Warren County Employee Handbook."
Skerda adjourned court after argument and did not indicate when to expect a ruling.