JP bonuses brought into question

December 16, 2015 Edition

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Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

For more than 10 years, Lawrence County justices of the peace have received year-end bonuses, however, after Delbert Robins presented information from Arkansas attorney generals at the Dec. 7 special Quorum Court meeting, the legality of such bonuses has been brought into question.

Several justices were quick to brush off Robins' concerns as opinions and not law, yet A.C.A. 14-14-1205 requires justices to be paid per diem, a payment made for each meeting. Neither salary pay nor payment beyond that received for meetings attended is allowed.

County Judge Dale Freeman sought the opinion of County Attorney Dick Jarboe, who stated in a letter that due to the per diem nature of the justices' pay, he believed year-end bonuses were not proper.

Freeman said issues exist beyond the bonuses, as justices have been paid for more than one missed meeting, which Robins also pointed out as a violation.

The issue has been brought before the court in years past as auditors verbalized concerns about the bonuses. While the practice has continued, some justices have come out against the bonuses. Reports of at least two returning their bonus checks last week were received.

Justice Lloyd Clark was one to return his check soon after the meeting and said he had tried to do the same for a previous year-end check and was told he couldn't.

Freeman said it could be that all justices will be required to return their bonus checks for this year and added that he had already heard opposition to this as of Friday.

He said he expects bonuses for JPs to be eliminated as well as enforcement of being paid for only one missed meeting a year.

Justices currently get paid $200 for every regular meeting and $50 for any special meetings attended. They also have access to county health insurance.

Freeman said he has heard concerns about bonuses for other elected officials but the law he's working from on this issue is specific to justices of the peace.

Justices met Tuesday night on this issue, as well as others. Full coverage of the meeting can be found in next week's edition of The Times Dispatch.

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