The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

April 2, 2014

Attorneys' pay dispute could reach appellate court in May

Briefs filed by County Board, county attorney, labor union

A labor union representing assistant Blue Earth County attorneys has weighed in on the court fight over their salaries, telling the Minnesota Court of Appeals that the county is financially flush and the County Board can easily afford pay hikes.

The filing of the amicus brief by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is the final written argument that will be accepted by the Court of Appeals, leaving only a short oral argument before the issue is decided.

The disagreement between County Attorney Ross Arneson and county commissioners, which had simmered for years, entered the court system in November 2012 after Arneson employed a salary appeal process available to elected county officials under state law.

Martin County Judge Robert Walker ruled in September that Arneson was correct — that his assistants were underpaid compared to counterparts in similar counties and the board hadn't taken the extra steps required by the law in setting salaries for employees of elected officials. Instead, the board set salaries for 2012 and 2013 — the budgets appealed by Arneson — in a way that was "arbitrary, capricious, oppressive and in unreasonable disregard of the responsibilities" of the six assistant county attorneys, Walker wrote in his September ruling.

The board later asked the Court of Appeals to overturn Walker's ruling and has filed a 49-page brief explaining why it believes Walker erred. Ken White, a Mankato attorney representing Arneson and his assistants, responded with a 30-page response.

The union also asked to be heard, and the Court of Appeals agreed to accept a "friend of the court" or amicus brief.

The AFSCME brief, along with presenting data about the county's large budget reserves and its relatively thriving economy, was harshly critical of the board's decision to use Region Nine counties (a group of eight counties that border Blue Earth County, plus Sibley County) in justifying the salaries it pays the assistant county attorneys.

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