Itawamba County questions legality of bailiff’s pay

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

There’s some debate right now over whether or not the county can legally pay a local deputy $125.

During their most recent meeting, the Itawamba County Board of Supervisors discussed money owed to an unnamed Itawamba deputy for two days worth of work as bailiff for the county’s justice court.

Historically, the money has been paid in addition to his salary as a county employee, the same as if the county had hired someone else to do the work.

The difference, however, is that full-time county employees aren’t supposed to be paid on a contractual basis. In other words, whether or not the deputy was owed the money wasn’t in question so much as whether or not paying him was legal at all. In fact, after a bit of quick research, board attorney Bo Russell said there’s a specific statute that says if a full-time deputy serves as bailiff, he or she doesn’t get paid extra.

The problem was brought to the board’s attention by county administrator Gary Franks, who called for the board to decide what to do in this specific instance and decide how similar situations will be handled in the future.

“Do we pay him the $125? And, what do we do from this point forward? Those are the questions I have today,” Franks said.

The board spent around 20 minutes discussing the situation with Itawamba County Justice Court Clerk Shelia Spradling, who attended to help further explain why the deputy was being paid the way he was. She said that the deputy served as bailiff on a fairly routine basis, but usually as part of his regular work hours.

“If he was already on duty, he didn’t get any extra money,” Spradling explained. “He only got paid extra on those days he wasn’t supposed to work.”

Spradling, who took over as justice court clerk last year, said the bailiff has typically been paid extra for those days he wasn’t already on the clock. It’s been done that way since prior to her taking over the position.

Regardless of the past, Franks said things can’t be done that way moving forward.

“He can’t be paid like we’re paying him,” Franks said. “He can still do the work; he just can’t get paid that way anymore.”

Franks said if the employee should need to serve as a bailiff, that time should either be counted as part of his regular hours or as overtime pay.

Board members agreed.

“If we’re not supposed to do it, we don’t need to be doing it,” said Supervisor Eric “Tiny” Hughes.

Justice court sessions have to have a bailiff to help keep order, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a deputy. According to Mississippi law, the county’s two constables are required to attend all sessions of the justice court; they can also serve as bailiff while in attendance.

When questioned about this law, Spradling said the county’s constables — Reggie Johnson and Doug Lesley — usually do attend the court sessions, although a separate bailiff is frequently required to help keep order. If the constables weren’t available for one reason or another, the jailer would serve as bailiff.

“We definitely need to have somebody in the courtroom,” she said. “Sometimes it becomes heated in there.”

There have been times, she said, when neither constable has been available for a court session … a fact that irked some of the board members.

“We’re paying them to do it and, in a way, they’re not doing it,” Ricky Johnson said. “They were elected to the positions; that’s a part of their duties.”

In the end, the board decided to forego paying the bailiff until Russell could further research the legality of the matter. They are expected to return to the issue during a future meeting.

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