JACKSON – Many chancery and circuit clerks across the state will take a dramatic pay cut in 1996 because of a law passed three years ago.
The law, which went into effect this year, places a cap on the salaries for chancery and circuit clerks. They cannot make more than $76,500, which was the governor’s salary in 1993.
While some will be taking a pay cut this year, many made the most of 1995. According to records filed by May 15 in the state auditor’s office, two of the chancery clerks made more than $200,000.
Murphy Adkins, the chancery clerk of Rankin County, had a net income of $259,447 while G.N. Creel, the chancery clerk of Harrison County, made $206,305 after expenses.
Creel, who was chancery clerk in Harrison County for 24 years before stepping down this year, said his income was a result of the growth in Harrison County – thanks in part to the casino industry.
Chancery clerks collect a fee from the public for each deed, deed of trust or other land transaction filed in their office. They also collect fees on other items filed in chancery court, such as divorce proceedings.
Many also are reimbursed for other work, such as serving as the county’s purchase clerk, auditor/treasurer, administrator or bookkeeper. In some counties, the boards of supervisors select other people to perform those duties, but in many they are done by the chancery clerk.
For instance, in Monroe County, former Chancery Clerk Howard Moon received $68,185 last year for the various work he did for the county in addition to the income he received for filing the deeds and other papers for the public.
The highest paid chancery clerk in Northeast Mississippi was Lee County’s Bill Benson, who had a net income of $149,842. He made $339,930 on fees, but much of that money must go to pay office expenses, including personnel.
Benson said he was able to make so much fee-generated income because such a large volume of work goes through his office.
“We (Lee County chancery clerk officials) handle about one-third of the court cases in the (1st) district,” Benson said. “We have a tremendous volume.”
Lee County also continues to grow and with that growth, comes land transactions, meaning more business for his office.
Circuit clerk fees
It was difficult to determine who was the highest paid circuit clerk in Northeast Mississippi. The circuit clerk of Lee County is generally one of the most well paid in the state. But Mary Faye Gwin retired from her post this year and has not reported her income for 1995.
Gwin said she has been in contact with state officials to let them know her report should be filed within the next couple of days.
The highest paid circuit clerk in the state was Jackson County’s Joe Martin, who grossed $237,899 and netted $172,864.
Circuit clerks make a fee from filing various documents in circuit court, such as lawsuits and marriage licenses.
Mary Alice Busby of Lafayette County was the best paid of the Northeast Mississippi clerks who have reported. She had a gross and net income of $92,027. In many of the counties, the office personnel, supplies and equipment are paid out of the county general fund.
But not all the clerks have the big salaries. For instance, the circuit clerk in Issaquena in the Delta netted $15,141.
Under state law, the fee-paid clerks and constables are supposed to report their income by April 15. Under the old law, if they had not reported by May 15, their names would be turned over to the attorney general’s office, who could prosecute them on misdemeanor charges.
But in 1993, the Legislature placed a cap on the clerks, saying they could make no more than the governor did that year. In 1993, the governor made $75,600.
This past session, the Legislature again changed the law – but not the salary cap. Now the chancery clerks and circuit clerks must file with the state auditor’s office instead of with the secretary of state’s office. But the Legislature also removed the penalty for not filing.
Next year, the clerks can be prosecuted on misdemeanor charges for keeping more than the capped amount of $75,600. This year, though, there is technically no penalty, according to the 1995 law passed by the Legislature.
Constables still must report their fee-based income to the secretary of state’s office. And if they miss the May 15 deadline, they still can be prosecuted on misdemeanor charges.
The income of constables is considerably less than that made by circuit and chancery clerks. Constables get a fee for serving court papers on people involved in lawsuits.
After buying equipment and uniforms, some constables actually lose money. Lee County constables – Ted Wood and Phil Gann – were among the best paid in the state. Wood made $37,744 after expenses and Gann made $34,146. Former Lee County Constable Jimmy King has yet to report his 1995 income.
While the constables must serve court papers to make any money on the job, Gann said they still have full law enforcement authority. To be able to find people at home to serve the court papers, constables must be on the road day and night. During that time, they also are patrolling, Gann said.
Gann, former president of the Mississippi Constables Association, said the job is part-time for many of the constables in smaller counties.
“A lot of the smaller counties don’t have enough caseload to support the constables,” he said.