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In re Circuit Court Budget of 45th Judicial Circuit of State

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

June 27, 2017

IN RE: CIRCUIT COURT BUDGET OF THE 45TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT OF THE STATE OF MISSOURI,
v.
FORTY-FIFTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT, PRESIDING CIRCUIT JUDGE, Appellant. LINCOLN COUNTY COMMISSION, DAN COLBERT, PRESIDING COMMISSIONER, EUGENE GALLOWAY, COMMISSIONER, DIST. 1, MATT BASS, COMMISSIONER, DIST. 2, Respondent,

         APPEAL FROM THE JUDICIAL FINANCE COMMISSION

          MARY R. RUSSELL, JUDGE

         This case is a petition for review of a decision by the Judicial Finance Commission and concerns the reasonableness of the 45th Judicial Circuit Court's ("45thCircuit") 2016 budget as submitted to the Lincoln County Commission ("County Commission"). The Judicial Finance Commission found $26, 525 of the total requested budget estimate for attorneys' fees was speculative and unreasonable. The Judicial Finance Commission's decision is affirmed because $26, 525, representing an estimate of future attorneys' fees, was an unreasonable budgetary request.

         Background

         Over the last several years, the 45th Circuit has been involved in various litigation matters with the County Commission regarding the 45th Circuit's budget.[1] In December 2015, when the 45th Circuit submitted its budget estimate for 2016 to the County Commission as required by sections 50.540 and 50.640, [2] it included an estimate of $35, 000 for attorneys' fees to represent the 45th Circuit in litigation or other legal matters for the year. The County Commission contested the $35, 000 estimate and filed a petition for review in the Judicial Finance Commission pursuant to section 50.640.2. The parties agreed to submit the case to the Judicial Finance Commission by filing affidavits and briefs.

         The Judicial Finance Commission, in a decision dated June 2, 2016, determined the attorneys' fees for $8, 475 and $12, 060 were reasonable as they were for attorneys' fees already incurred.[3] It ordered Lincoln County to pay the $8, 475 from the 45th Circuit's budget and the $12, 060 from the county's own budget. The Judicial Finance Commission reversed the remaining $26, 525 of the $35, 000 budget estimate for attorneys' fees. It concluded future potential attorneys' fees "are very different from most future expenses outlined in a proposed budget. Normally, future expenses such as salaries, rent, utilities, and supplies are regularly occurring and largely predictable." The Judicial Finance Commission concluded the budget request was "entirely speculative." Accordingly, it found the remaining $26, 525 in the 45th Circuit's proposed budget to be unreasonable.

         The 45th Circuit filed this petition for review of the Judicial Finance Commission's decision pursuant to section 477.600.7 and Supreme Court Operating Rule 12-23.01.[4]

         Standard of Review

         This Court reviews decisions by the Judicial Finance Commission de novo. Sec. 477.600.7. When reviewing such decisions, this Court "does not engage in any close reconsideration of the [Judicial Finance] Commission's conclusions with respect to reasonableness of circuit court expenditures where the basis for such conclusions is apparent from the record." Cooper Cnty. v. Circuit Court of 18th Judicial Circuit of Mo., 124 S.W.3d 466, 467 (Mo. banc 2004). This holding is consistent with the statutory authority given to the Judicial Finance Commission to be the arbiter of budget disputes between county commissions and circuit courts. Bosley v. Berra, 688 S.W.2d 353, 354 (Mo. banc 1985). While this Court reviews the Judicial Finance Commission's decision de novo, deference is given to "its conclusions regarding reasonableness of circuit court expenditures." In re 1984 Budget for Circuit Court of St. Louis Cnty., 687 S.W.2d 896, 899 (Mo. banc 1985).

         Analysis

         The issue before this Court is the reasonableness of the 45th Circuit's estimate of $26, 525 for prospective attorneys' fees included in its proposed 2016 budget. If a county's governing body believes the budget estimates from its circuit court are unreasonable, the county may file a petition for review with the Judicial Finance Commission pursuant to section 50.640.2. If such a petition for review is filed, the circuit court shall have the burden of establishing "that the amount estimated by it and included in the budget is reasonable." Id. It is the Judicial Finance Commission's duty to determine the reasonableness of a budget request by evaluating "the discrete and concrete elements proposed for it through which the item is given meaning." Bosley, 688 S.W.2d at 355. The Judicial Finance Commission must consider the following when making its reasonableness determination:

[T]he expenditures necessary to support the circuit court in relation to the expenditures necessary for the administration of all other county functions, the actual or estimated operating deficit or surplus from prior years, all interest and debt redemption charges, all capital projects expenditures, and the total estimated available revenues from all sources available for financing the proposed expenditures.

Sec. 50.640.2.

         The Judicial Finance Commission has the statutory authority to make factual determinations concerning a circuit court's budget. State ex rel. Twenty-Second JudicialCircuit v. Jones, 823 S.W.2d 471, 476 (Mo. banc 1992). "That duty includes the discretion to determine the reasonableness of part or all of any particular budget item, as well as the reasonableness of the total amount ...


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