Today, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed most of a lower court order requiring Mobile County to pay for additional funding and pay raises for District Attorney Ashley Rich’s office, possibly costing the county $3 million more per year, and ending years of wrangling between Rich and the County Commission.
A county source told Lagniappe Friday afternoon the decision could increase the county’s funding of Rich’s office from $1.5 million to $3.9 million. A statement from attorney LaVeeda Battle, approved by commissioners Connie Hudson and Merceria Ludgood, claimed the ruling could cost the county $3 million more per year. Hudson and Ludgood have steadily maintained a stance that the county should not have to provide more funding to Rich’s office.
In addition to forcing the county to fund up to 27 ADAs, where it had previously funded 22, the court order would also increase their pay scale. During the proceedings ADAs in the office made between about $46,000 and $123,000. After reversing a lower court order, the Supreme Court put back in place a summary judgment proposal from Rich to increase their pay to between $103,00 to $245,000.
Battle’s statement places those salary numbers much higher, however.
“The Alabama Supreme Court ruled today against Mobile County in the case filed by District Attorney Ashley Rich involving raises for her employees. The ruling means that Mobile County Assistant District Attorneys will be paid salaries of almost $300,000 a year, primarily with County funds, even though Assistant District Attorneys are State employees. This will have a devastating impact on the County’s funding of all services and employees and will cost the County as much as $3 million dollars a year more in supplemental payments to the District Attorney,” Battle’s statement said.
When reached to explain how the county arrived at the figure of nearly $300,000 for ADAs, Morgan-Battle said the ruling increases the salary levels in accord with any state and county raises, meaning some employees would have their salaries raised twice.
“That money has to come out of … other employees’ salaries, or services,” Battle said.
The ruling also affirms a lower court ruling the county must pay for up to eight legal stenographers, who are called “trial coordinators” in Rich’s office. Despite the law saying the county is required to pay for stenographers, its attorneys had argued otherwise.
In an answer and counterclaim to the 2012 complaint, the county contended it had complied with the local funding requirements. In addition, the county claimed Rich received funding from other sources and therefore was required to give back to the county some of the funds previously received.
In her statement, Battle said the county already pays Rich’s office more than almost every other county in the state.
For FY 2016, the DA will receive approximately $1.6 million from Mobile County and $829,977 from the state. Mobile County has contributed more funding to the DA’s office than the state has provided throughout the last recession and even today, according to the statement.
“In light of the ruling’s grave consequences, the County is considering all legal options available to preserve its budget and maintain County services,” Battle’s statement said.
Commission President Jerry Carl, who has supported the county and Rich’s office coming to a mutual agreement on the funding issue rather than fighting in court, said he didn’t “want any part” of the statement approved by Hudson and Ludgood.
The ruling is the culmination of a long legal battle between Rich and the county commission. The fight has cost the county more than $500,000 in legal fees. Lower courts had previously asked the two sides to come to an agreement outside of court, but they didn’t.
Through a second counterclaim, the county argued the local laws were unconstitutional, but a lower court disagreed. The court ruled that Rich was, in fact, entitled to hire 27 ADAs and one chief ADA, as well as other positions.
Rich was in a murder trial Friday and could not immediately be reached for comment. When she makes a statement we will update the report.