Counties need state relief for overcrowded Associate Court dockets

By: 
Buck Collier
Special Correspondent to The Republican

HERMANN — As more cities shutter their municipal courts and transfer their cases to the county level, the dockets of Associate Circuit Courts — such as the one of Judge Ada Brehe-Kruegger — continues to grow. And in the process demand more time of county government employees in handling the cases previously dealt with in a municipal court.

Gasconade County Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel, R-Hermann, Thursday morning noted that in last week’s session of Brehe-Kruegger’s court, 66 cases were taken up. Of those, 56 were municipal cases. To handle the increase in caseload that’s resulting from a transfer from the cities, Associate Circuit Court employees — some of whom are county workers — are having to come in early and stay late. Miskel noted that some of the employees recently were busy as early as 7 a.m.

The presiding commissioner called the result of the cities’ ability to transfer their cases to the county “another unfunded mandate” issued by state government.

“We, as commissioners, need to start pounding on Jefferson City,” Miskel said, referring to pressing for more financial aid from the state for more Associate Circuit Court staffing. “Something has to be done,” Miskel said.

County Clerk Lesa Lietzow noted that the Office of State Courts Administrator monitors the staffing of the various levels of the court system and has deemed Gasconade County to be at maximum staffing.

“I would hope they would loosen up on staffing a little bit,” Lietzow said during the county administrators’ Aug. 15 weekly session.

Miskel said he hopes his counterparts throughout Missouri will begin lobbying their state legislators to obtain more staffing for the Associate Circuit Courts to deal with the influx of cases previously handled in municipal courts.

Owensville Municipal Court cases were heard for the first time at the Associate Circuit level on Aug. 7. Jessica Means, the city’s police clerk and assistant to the municipal prosecuting attorney, said Owensville cases were heard along with ones from the cities of Gasconade and Rosebud.

She said a “big chunk” of the municipal cases heard at the circuit level came from Owensville filings. “Quite a few. Upper 30s,” she estimated.

Owensville, Gasconade and Rosebud cases will be heard in Associate Circuit Court in Hermann the first Wednesday of each month.

Graded exercise held

The latest graded exercise of the county’s Emergency Management Agency — a run-through of a response to a problem at Ameren-UE's Callaway County Nuclear Power Plant — received high marks from the federal government observer but the post-drill assessment prompted criticism from Associate Commissioner Jerry Lairmore toward Gasconade County R-1 School District and the Missouri Department of Transportation.

The two agencies would be key players in a real emergency: MoDOT responsible for rerouting traffic throughout the affected area and the R-1 School District as the designated shelter site.

Miskel said the county received favorable remarks from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) observer and the local participants were able to navigate a real problem during the exercise. “We had a major glitch with our computers and were worked right through it,” Miskel said.

“The professionalism of the participants really came through,” he added.

But Lairmore said he was concerned by the absence of a MoDOT representative and an upper-level member of the R-1 School District.

“Why wasn’t MoDOT here?” Lairmore asked. “I just think they need to be participating. I was disappointed they weren’t there…and the (Missouri State) Highway Patrol, too.”

County officials did note that MoDOT, R-1 and Highway Patrol representatives were on hand for an earlier, ungraded version of the exercise.

Commissioners express 

concerns with direct deposit 

Commissioners also suggested more information be obtained from Peoples Savings Bank officials regarding the new direct deposit program that has been started for county employees. Of concern is the possible debit of funds by the county from an employee’s account in the event of an overpayment.

Lairmore and Miskel voiced concern about an account being debited, which could put an employee in an overdrawn situation. Rather than using a debit feature, they suggested, the County Clerk’s Office and Treasurer’s Office reconcile any overpayment in the next pay period.

Lietzow and Treasurer Mike Feagan said they would talk again with bank representatives about whether the county would be required to debit an employee’s account or if any overpayment could be reconciled as suggested by Lairmore and Miskel.

Commissioners will conduct a public hearing to set the 2019 tax levy at 9 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 22.