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Lawsuits seek repayment from Short, Eskridge
by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

Platte County this week filed legal action attempting to recover money paid to two former county commissioners in a salary increase that was later deemed unconstitutional by the Missouri Supreme Court.

Separate suits listing former commissioners Michael Short and Diza Eskridge as defendants were filed in Platte County Circuit Court Wednesday morning by special legal counsel Charlie Dickman.

The petition for damages seeks the return of $19,763.50 paid to both Eskridge and Short between Jan. 1, 1999 and Dec. 31, 2000. That's the period of time in which both received a mid-term pay raise. The state Supreme Court in 2001, in a decision on a case in Laclede County, ruled such mid-term raises as unconstitutional and ruled all action taken as invalid.

Dickman declined comment on his action other than to say: "My policy is that I don't litigate cases in the press."

Neither Short nor Eskridge could be reached for comment prior to press time Wednesday morning.

The decision to file the court cases was made in a recent closed meeting of the Platte County Commission, during its regular closed monthly session with county counsel. Minutes from that meeting indicate that Commissioners Tom Pryor and Jim Plunkett voted in favor of pursuing the matter, with Betty Knight abstaining.

Reached Wednesday, Plunkett said he could not comment on the legal matter.

Dickman's petition maintains that because the mid-term raises have been declared invalid, the payments to the defendants were made in error and that the county has the right to recover the money.

"In equity and good conscience, defendant(s) ought to return" the mid-term pay raises to the county, the petition states.

Dickman states that on Feb. 7, the county made a demand via certified mail to both Eskridge and Short seeking return of the mid-term pay raise. As of Wednesday, neither has returned the money, according to Dickman's filing.

The suit seeks return of $19,763.50 from each, plus interest at the rate of 9% per annum from Feb. 7, 2005.

The pay raise stemmed from an Oct. 30, 1997 meeting of the Platte County Salary Commission, during which a motion was passed that effectively increased the salaries of Short and Eskridge at mid-term.

Earlier, Short hired the Kansas City law firm of White, Goss and Bowers to render an opinion on the related statute. A press release was issued stating in their opinion, the statute places a three year limit on any cause of action.

Platte County Auditor Sandra Thomas, who has been vocal in her belief the money should be repaid, in January said the Missouri Attorney General has issued a legal opinion that says a five year statute of limitations applies to lawsuits over compensation to public officials.

Short then responded by saying Thomas' efforts to make an issue of recovering the money were politically motivated.

Earlier this year, Platte County agreed to pay Dickman $125 per hour for his legal work. Dickman capped his attorney fee at $250 per demand letter sent in any individual matter, and agreed to cap his total attorney fee at $7,500 in any individual litigated matter through trial.

The county will also be responsible for all out-of-pocket expenses incurred by Dickman's firm during the course of litigation.




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