MANKATO — A substantial pay hike and two years of back pay should be coming to the six assistant Blue Earth County attorneys in the next two months after a judge ruled that county commissioners failed to follow state law in setting the prosecutors' pay and have been illegally underpaying them for several years.
"The board's salary determinations for the assistant county attorneys set forth in the 2012 and 2013 budgets for the Blue Earth County Attorney's Office are arbitrary, capricious, oppressive, and in unreasonable disregard for the responsibilities of the Blue Earth County Attorneys Office," District Judge Robert Walker wrote in his ruling this week.
Unless the County Board appeals Walker's decision, the county will have 60 days to set higher salaries for the attorneys and submit them to the Martin County judge. Walker, under state law, couldn't order a specific salary hike for the attorneys but will "verify the board's compliance" after commissioners set new salary levels for the attorneys.
The combined cost of the salary adjustments could easily top $100,000 a year, meaning the board might be faced with a quarter-million dollars or more in back pay for last year and this year for the five full-time and one half-time assistant county attorneys. Among the board's failings was its unwillingness to compare the pay of Blue Earth County prosecutors with those in similarly populated counties with similar levels of crime, Walker wrote.
Veteran assistant county attorneys in those sorts of counties were earning roughly $20,000 to $30,000 more in 2012 compared to the most experienced Blue Earth County assistant attorneys, based on salary data that Walker included as an appendix to his ruling. That's unacceptable and illegal under Minnesota law, according to the ruling.
"This conclusion is unavoidable given the board's failure to consider relevant comparable county data and impermissible reliance on a flawed classification system," Walker said.