The ongoing squabble between the Mobile County District Attorney and the county commission made its way to the statehouse Wednesday during the Mobile delegation’s committee hearing. It’s unclear how well-versed the legislators were about the feud, but both sides pled their cases earnestly and asked for the delegation’s intervention.
Commissioner Connie Hudson called the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling last Friday, which puts the county on the hook for salary increases and $4.8 million in backpay to the district attorney’s office, a “hardship on the county.”
LaVeeda Battle, lead attorney for the County Commission, detailed the ins and outs of the county’s position for lawmakers. Two local acts passed in 1982 and 1988 put into place a pay scale for county district attorneys and their assistants.
Battle said for a long time there was a friendly understanding between the commission and the DA’s office and neither of the acts had to be pushed. But in 2011, the DA pulled the two acts out of retirement and calculated the pay owed to the office at $4.8 million.
“That’s an exorbitant amount for the county to have to pay at this point,” Battle said.
Battle noted the bills were only meant to have counties supplement the pay for DAs since, technically, they are employed and paid by the state through the Office of Prosecution Services.
“That interpretation means that Mobile County would be the only county required to pay state raises for state employees,” Battle said. “This is not what this delegation intended when this act was passed. Since all other counties are simply supplementing these state employees, Mobile County should be no different.”
Battle called for the delegation to outright repeal the ‘82 and ‘88 acts and a failure to do so would result in county employees losing their scheduled raises.
“That’s an untenable position,” she said.
Rep. Victor Gaston (R-Mobile) asked if the current assistant district attorney pay of $113,000 would go up to $245,000, Battles said that it would, including scheduled raises and back pay. She also said failure to make the payments would result in the county being in contempt of the state’s supreme court and being forced to pay sanctions.
District Attorney Ashley Rich told a much different story.
Rich alleged counties like Jefferson, Madison and Montgomery are already being paid by the state and county and their pay scales have kept up with average pays for DA’s and their assistants.
Rich said the DA’s office has sat down with the county commission on multiple occasions and asked for reasonable pay adjustments — assistants would start off making $63,000 a year and would eventually move up to $147,000 a year after more than 20 years of service. Rich said the commission refused the offer repeatedly, which caused her to file suit.
“We have tried several times to settle this with the county commission,” Rich said. “We had no choice but to file suit. Never in a million years did I think as a Mobile County District Attorney I would have to file suit against a county commission.”
Rich said her department has kept the same level of funding for 20 years and also noted the current $45,000 salary pales in comparison to the $100,000 debt most law school students graduate with.
Two days after the supreme court ruled in favor of the DA’s office, Rich says she once again pled with the commission for the more reasonable pay scale mentioned before to no avail.
“We are absolutely not asking for some exorbitant amount,” Rich said. “We have been trying to negotiate a very reasonable settlement.”
Members of the delegation agreed to look into the issue, but offered no concrete resolutions for either party on Wednesday.
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