Sheriff regrets court battleLake County Sheriff Carey Johnson wants to put the case to rest; board wants him to pay legal fees.
By: By Matt Suoja/Lake County News Chronicle , Superior Telegram
Lake County Sheriff Carey Johnson wants to put the case to rest. The County Board would like nothing more but still needs to decide if Johnson should pay the county’s legal fees after a final decision in a two-year collective bargaining dispute between Johnson and a deputy.
Johnson’s appeal in Minnesota Supreme Court was denied recently, leaving him responsible for $4,900 in legal fees the county accrued. The sheriff came to the board at its meeting last week to make amends.
“It wasn’t about paybacks [but] about how I wanted to run the sheriff’s office,” he said. “I am hoping we can put this all behind us,” he said. “I should have never taken this on as my fight.”
There have been discussions about sending a letter out to Johnson about getting the funds back, but it hasn’t been drafted yet. “I would like to start at the lowest level first,” said County Attorney Russ Conrow about how the county could go about getting payment.
County Commissioner Tom Clifford said the county should collect the money.
According to board minutes from July 10, 2007, a resolution was passed that stated: “Authorize payment in the amount of $4,900 for legal retainer fees to Nichols, Kaster and Anderson, PLLP with the understanding that Sheriff Johnson will personally reimburse Lake County for legal fees if he doesn’t prevail in the lawsuit and request the County Attorney and Auditor to find a mechanism to ensure repayment by Sheriff.”
“I think the county needs to recoup the money someway,” Clifford said.
Commissioner Rich Sve had a different take. “It’s kind of a mixed bag,” he said, noting that Johnson worked hard to get grant money for the sheriff’s department in the past. “Some of that should be weighed into any decision,” Sve said.
The Supreme Court declined to hear the case this summer. Earlier, an appeals court upheld a ruling by the 6th District Court that Johnson committed an unfair labor practice when he ignored a grievance filed by Deputy Richard DeRosier. The deputy had challenged Johnson’s decision to appoint a less-senior deputy, and one with less narcotics investigations experience, to head a multi-agency drug task force.
DeRosier filed his grievance in early 2007. According to court documents, DeRosier had worked to secure state money for the North Shore Drug Task Force, which also included representatives from the Cook County Sheriff’s Office and the Two Harbors and Silver Bay police departments. As the deputy with the most experience with narcotics investigations, DeRosier said he expected to be assigned to the task force.
But a day after taking office in January of 2007, Johnson — who faced DeRosier in the 2006 primary race for sheriff — told DeRosier that another deputy would be appointed to the task force.
DeRosier said Johnson’s office has since talked to him about joining the Lake Superior Drug Task Force. The deputy and sheriff both said they have maintained a good working relationship.