Cole County Judge Considers Keeping ALJs in their Jobs

Missouri Lawyers Weekly – Copyright 2009 Dolan Media Newswires
By Jason Rosenbaum

A Cole County judge said he will decide by Tuesday whether to keep three dismissed administrative law judges on the job.

Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration dismissed four administrative law judges earlier this month, while the position of a fifth judge who retired will not be filled. The judges are supposed to leave their posts by June 30 – the end of fiscal year 2009.

Three of the judges – Henry Herschel, Matthew Murphy and John Tackes – sued earlier this week, arguing that state law protects them from being dismissed without a formal process.

Judge Jon Beetem, a Cole County circuit judge, on Friday considered whether to issue a temporary restraining order against the state. If Beetem issues the order, the soon-to-be dismissed judges would remain in their positions past June 30.

John Comerford, an attorney with Dowd Bennett representing the three judges, said he was “optimistic” about his clients’ chances.

“We’re very optimistic that he will give us a temporary restraining order,” Comerford said after the hearing. “Then my clients will continue to be employed on July 1 and will continue to serve the public.”

Nixon, who has cited the declining budgetary situation for the cuts, has argued that then-Gov. Matt Blunt also made reductions to the Division of Workers’ Compensation. And Ron Holliger – a former appellate judge who now serves as Attorney General Chris Koster’s general counsel – argued for that state that a permanent reinstatement of the judges would prompt layoffs of other employees.

“The only way for the division to have to balance its budget – which it’s constitutionally required to do – would be to lay off other employees,” Holliger said Friday during the hearing.

Comerford said that the division has typically spent less than the Legislature has appropriated for it over the past few years. If the division went over that amount, he added, they would either cut other spending items or lay off at-will employees that he says are not protected by statute.

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