A budget dispute involving elected officials in Adams County gets out of hand.
Now, a court case must be settled by the highest court in Indiana.
It's raising questions about whether a county judge overstepped his authority in trying to enforce payment of benefits to one of his key court administrators.
We sought comment from Adams Superior Court Judge Pat Miller, but he is on vacation.
Last October, Miller hired Kelly Sickafoose as county drug court coordinator.
County officials say she was brought on as an independent contractor, not entitled to public employee retirement contributions paid by the county.
For months, Sickafoose and her boss have disputed that, culminating last week when Judge Miller directed a deputy sheriff to serve Adams County Auditor Mary Beery with an order at her home, demanding payment of the claims within 48 hours, saying failure to comply would trigger a contempt of court finding and the possibility of fines, jail time or both.
Lawyers for Beery hustled out a response filed with the Indiana Supreme Court seeking to block the order.
The heart of the motion-- that Judge Miller's move was outside the bounds of the law, by filing a lawsuit in the court over which he presides, and then rendering an order compelling payment against a threat of criminal penalty and or incarceration.
The Supreme Court on June 9th granted the auditor's emergency request to stop the judge's order temporarily, with both sides having until next Friday to turn in legal arguments before the court makes a final decision on the matter.
In a court filing by attorneys for the county auditor, there was a suggestion that the judge's actions may have been personal in nature.
The motion states Judge Miller and Kelly Sickafoose were in a relationship before Sickafoose was hired as the Adams County Drug Court Coordinator.
In his defense, Judge Miller cited a statute saying his drug court has authority to hire employees needed to perform required functions of the court, and that Adams County is responsible for paying appropriate withholding taxes to resolve the dispute.
At issue-- a little more than $5,400.00.
The Adams County attorney said he couldn't comment on a pending legal matter, which will be settled sometime after June 23rd.