A judge heard arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit concerning the contracts of terminated county employees.

A judge heard arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit concerning the contracts of terminated county employees.

The arguments focused on a motion for a partial summary judgment. The motion is asking the judge to rule that severance provisions in the contracts are null and void.

Judge Edward Bouker said he will review written briefs and exhibits before issuing a ruling in the case.

The judge learned Wednesday that the parties in the case will begin mediation next month. But Bouker said he will move forward with making a ruling on the motion. He said the ruling probably will come in 45-60 days.

The lawsuit was filed last year on behalf of the Leavenworth County Commission to challenge the contracts of four employees.

The petition for a declaratory judgment 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.

Grier has since been dismissed from the lawsuit.

Copeland, Hill and Hughes, who have filed counterclaims in the case, were terminated by the County Commission several months after the lawsuit was filed. Hill has since been hired to work for the Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office.

The contracts of Copeland, Hill and Hughes were approved by the County Commission in 2016.

Copeland was given a five-year contract. The other contracts were approved for three years.

The contracts called for the employees to continue to be paid their salaries for the remainder of their contract periods after being terminated.

But after Copeland, Hill and Hughes were terminated in October, the County Commission stopped paying the former employees.

The lawsuit was filed after the makeup of the County Commission changed in 2017 as Doug Smith replaced Dennis Bixby as the commissioner from the county's 3rd District.

Scott Ryburn, an attorney representing the County Commission, said in court Wednesday that Smith basically was elected to the commission when he won a primary in August 2016 because he faced no challenger in that year's general election.

Ryburn argued the reaction to the election of Smith caused the approval of the contracts that are at the center of the lawsuit.

Ryburn argued the term of a commission as a whole lasts only two years.

“Every two years there is a new commission,” he said.

He argued that one commission cannot bind a future commission.

“That's a fundamental principle,” he said.

However, Ryburn said case law would allow a commission to enter into a contract that is binding for future commissions if it is necessary for the protection of the public interest.

“These are not necessary contracts for the public interest,” he said.

Ryburn argued that the contracts also violated state cash basis and budget laws because the severance provisions create financial obligations for the county for future years.

“There is no budget at this time to pay those,” he said.

Isaac Keppler, an attorney for Hughes, said the county government cannot spend money it does not have. But he argued that County Clerk Janet Klasinski testified in a deposition that the county can make the severance payments in a way that is consistent with the cash basis and budget laws.

Keppler argued that Hughes handled tax related duties for the county, which are necessary because they bring money back to the county.

Gregory Robinson, an attorney for Copeland, argued there was a human resources director in the county government before his client was hired for that position.

After the position was eliminated following Copeland's termination, the duties of the job were dispersed among others, Robinson said.

He said the county government also hired a consultant to help with human resources.

“Those duties and those requirements and essential functions have not gone away,” he said.

Robinson also said Copeland had been identified as a whistleblower under county policy at the time her contract was approved in 2016.

Ryburn said he would argue that Copeland did not meet the requirements for whistleblower status. But Ryburn said this issue is irrelevant.

Thomas Haney, an attorney for Hill, argued his client's former job of county counselor is necessary and required by law.

“There has to be a county counselor,” Haney said.

Haney argued that Leavenworth County now does not have a county counselor because the man who has taken over the position holds the title of senior county counselor.

Haney said the length of the term of a commission is a sticky question.

He questioned whether a commission would be limited to approving contracts for only one or two months in length because a new term of the commission is about to begin.

“That cannot be the law,” he said. “That would be a disservice to counties.”

Ahead of Wednesday's hearing, Bouker filed a ruling on motions filed by defendants in the case. The motions sought to add County Treasurer Janice Van Parys and her husband, Senior County Counselor David Van Parys, as defendants to counterclaims.

In a ruling filed April 22, Bouker denied the motions.

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