One defendant has been released from a lawsuit concerning Leavenworth County employment contracts, but others may be joining the case.

One defendant has been released from a lawsuit concerning Leavenworth County employment contracts, but others may be joining the case.

A hearing was held Friday in a case that was filed on behalf of the Leavenworth County Commission to challenge the contracts of four employees.

The case was filed earlier this year, asking a judge to rule the contracts are null and void. The petition named Human Resources Director Tamara Copeland, County Counselor Mollie Hill, Deputy County Counselor Andrea Hughes and Road and Bridge Superintendent Vincent Grier as defendants in the case.

The four contracts were approved by the County Commission in 2016. Copeland was given a five-year contract. The other contracts were for three years.

Under the contracts for Hill, Hughes and Copeland, the employees would continue to be paid their salaries for the remainder of their contract periods after being terminated unless they are convicted of felonies or fraud related to their duties with the county.

Grier’s contract had a similar severance provision, but it provided additional reasons for which he could be terminated for cause without the county having to continue to pay his salary.

The makeup of the commission changed in January when Doug Smith replaced Dennis Bixby as the commissioner from the county’s 3rd District.

The makeup has changed again since Commissioner Clyde Graeber resigned last month due to health reasons. Commissioner Louis Klemp was appointed to fill the vacancy for the county’s 2nd District.

The petition filed by Scott Ryburn, an attorney for the County Commission, argues that the former County Commission’s approval of the contracts “was an attempt to bind successors in matters that are fundamental to the administration of county government and usurp the authority of the present Board of County Commissioners.”

Copeland, Hill and Hughes attended Friday’s hearing in Leavenworth County District Court with their attorneys. Ryburn appeared on behalf of the County Commission.

Grier, who never filed a response to the lawsuit, did not appear for the hearing.

Ryburn said Grier had signed an agreement to rescind his contract and have the claims against him dismissed.

Judge Edward Bouker said he would file the order. The judge said he would strike some language from the agreement.

Bouker is a senior judge for the state of Kansas. He was assigned to the case after local District Judge David King recused himself.

Bouker also took up a motion that was filed by Hughes’ attorney, Isaac Kepler. Kepler sought to join, or add, other contracted employees as defendants in the case.

Kepler argued these other employees would be affected by the declaration being sought in the case.

Ryburn said other employees were not named as defendants because their contracts are different. He said their contracts can be canceled during the current term of the present commission.

“We don’t have a dispute with those other parties,” Ryburn said.

He conceded that County Administrator Mark Loughry is an exception because he was granted a contract that is similar to the ones that are at issue in the lawsuit.

But Ryburn said he has been in discussions with Loughry.

“He has agreed to abide by the court’s order,” he said.

On Monday, the County Commission voted to offer Loughry a new employment agreement.

When contracted Friday, Loughry said he had not provided a formal response regarding the proposed agreement. He continues to operate off of his existing contract.

Bouker ordered that the other employees cited in Kepler’s motion, including Loughry, be served summonses to give them the opportunity to participate in the case as defendants. The judge said the other employees may decide they do not wish to participate.

“If they don’t answer, they’re out,” he said.

At one point, Gregory Robinson, attorney for Copeland, expressed concern about comments Klemp made Thursday during a meeting of the County Commission.

During the meeting, Klemp asked about Friday’s court hearing. Klemp said there is something he wants to do when the commission meets again Monday and he had been asked to wait until after the court hearing.

“This is a very fluid situation,” Robinson said.

Ryburn said one commissioner cannot do anything by himself. He said the parties cannot decide on issues based on speculation.

Robinson offered to play a recording of Klemp’s comments for the judge. But Bouker did not ask to listen to the recording.

It also was revealed that Kepler is seeking information about communications between Klemp and members of the commission that occurred from the beginning of 2016 to the present.

Before being appointed to the commission, Klemp frequently attended commission meetings and often made remarks during public comment periods.

The issue of the communications came up as attorneys were discussing the discovery process in the case.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Nov. 27.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR