Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Second Division
STATE EX REL. CHRIS MENNEMEYER, Appellant,
LINCOLN COUNTY, Respondents.
from the Circuit Court of Lincoln County Honorable David L.
M. Hess, Judge
case arises from a dispute between the Honorable Chris
Kunza-Mennemeyer, the Presiding Judge of the 45th Judicial
Circuit (the "Presiding Judge") and Lincoln County
(the "County") over the salary of the Juvenile
Officer's attorney. The Presiding Judge appeals the trial
court's judgment dismissing her writ of mandamus against
the County, refusing her request for attorney fees, and
denying her motion to disqualify the trial judge. We affirm
in part and reverse in part.
County and the Presiding Judge have a dysfunctional
relationship. As sometimes seen in family law cases,
dysfunctional relationships can lead to complicated and
expensive litigation, with costs far outweighing the original
amount in dispute.
dysfunction between the parties, for the purposes of this
appeal, began in December 2014, when the Presiding Judge
proposed increasing the Juvenile Officer's attorney's
salary from $25, 000 to $41, 000. Until that time, the County
Prosecutor's Office had been representing the Juvenile
Officer in most matters. The Presiding Judge believed the
County Prosecutor's Office would not be able to
sufficiently represent the Juvenile Officer due to an
increased workload. The Presiding Judge notified the County
Prosecutor's Office that she would be budgeting the
Juvenile Officer's attorney's salary under the
Circuit Court's own budget, and she would be hiring
counsel to represent the Juvenile Officer.
County disagreed with the Presiding Judge's proposal to
raise the Juvenile Officer's attorney's salary to
$41, 000, but it agreed to move the position within the
"Juvenile Budget." On December 18, 2014, it
proposed the County Prosecutor's Office continue to
represent the Juvenile Officer for $25, 000. However, on
December 24, 2014, the Presiding Judge appointed a private
attorney, Jesse Granneman, to represent the Juvenile Officer
effective January 1, 2015, at a rate of $150.00 per hour.
February 4, 2015, the County filed a petition for review of
the Circuit Court's budget with the Judicial Finance
Commission ("First JFC Case"), disputing, inter
alia, the $16, 440.00 increase in the Juvenile Officer's
attorney's salary. A settlement conference was held on March
9, 2015, during which the parties signed a settlement
agreement (the "Settlement Agreement") which stated
"the Prosecuting Attorney's Office shall continue to
provide representation of the Juvenile Offices in [the
County] and [Pike County]." The Settlement Agreement
further stated "all items not specifically addressed
herein shall remain budgeted as previously approved by the
County Commission on January 9, 2015."
March 16, 2015, the Presiding Judge filed a "motion for
hearing" with the JFC, arguing that the Settlement
Agreement was not the same document she agreed to during the
settlement conference. She asserted the Settlement Agreement
was a retyped version she never signed, and her signature on
the Settlement Agreement was from an earlier version she had
signed. She asserted the retyped version included provisions
she had stricken and did not reflect other changes she made
with a blue pen.
April 3, 2015, counsel for the JFC filed an affidavit
attesting to the circumstances surrounding the typing and
filing of the final version of the Settlement Agreement. The
affidavit stated both parties' attorneys had indicated
during negotiations that the final version of the Settlement
Agreement was acceptable. That same day, the JFC denied the
Presiding Judge's motion. No further action was taken in
the First JFC Case. Also on that same day, the County
Prosecutor began representing the Juvenile Officer instead of
April 21, 2015, the Presiding Judge entered an "Order of
Payment" that declared Mr. Granneman was entitled to
$12, 165.00 ($150 per hour for 81.1 hours) for services he
performed for the Juvenile Officer from January 1, 2015
through April 3, 2015, and ordered the County to pay that
amount. The Juvenile Officer personally delivered the Order
of Payment to the County Clerk. The County ignored the Order.
September 15, 2015, the Presiding Judge sent correspondence
to the County's Commissioner and Treasurer requesting
payment for Mr. Granneman. The County refused the Presiding
Judge's request, replying via a letter from the County
Counselor that Mr. Granneman's services were not
contracted for by the County and not authorized in the
budget. The County Counselor instead offered to negotiate a
settlement of Mr. Granneman's fees at a lower amount.
November 3, 2015, the Presiding Judge filed a writ of
mandamus against the County requesting a preliminary writ be
issued to sequester funds to pay Mr. Granneman $12, 165.00
plus interest at a rate of nine percent. The trial court
issued a preliminary writ of mandamus. On January 3, 2016,
the County filed its answer, a motion to dismiss, and a
"counter motion" to declare the Presiding
Judge's Order of Payment void.
January 29, 2016, the County filed a petition for review over
the Circuit Court's 2016 budget ("Second JFC
Case"), where it disputed a $35, 000 budget line item
for legal fees in the Circuit Court's budget. The
Presiding Judge filed an answer, asserting the $35, 000 was
necessary to pay current and prospective attorney fees for
representing the Presiding Judge in her ongoing litigation
with the County.
10, 2016, the trial court heard oral argument on the
Presiding Judge's writ of mandamus. The trial court
continued the case for an evidentiary hearing, but then
emailed the parties a week later and informed them it would
not need further argument or an evidentiary hearing. The
trial court requested the parties submit proposed findings of
fact and conclusions of law, and neither party objected.
2016, the JFC issued its ruling in the Second JFC Case,
determining that $8, 475 in attorney fees already incurred
for the Presiding Judge's representation were reasonably
budgeted. It determined the remaining $26, 525 budget request
for legal fees was unreasonable, because the amount was for
prospective attorney fees which had not yet been incurred.
13, 2016, the trial court entered its judgment denying the
writ of mandamus, finding the Presiding Judge had no
authority to enter her Order of Payment because it was
contrary to the Settlement Agreement. Despite denying the
writ, the trial court determined that the County owed Mr.
Granneman $6, 319.43 for the legal services he provided to
the Juvenile Officer. It also denied the Presiding
Judge's request for attorney fees. After the amended
judgment was issued, the County paid Mr. Granneman $6,
1, 2016, the Presiding Judge filed a petition for review of
the Second JFC Case with the Missouri Supreme Court. The
Court later affirmed the Second JFC Case decision in
Lincoln County v. Forty-Fifth Judicial Circuit, 528
S.W.3d 357 (Mo. banc 2017), but noted the issues raised in
the writ of mandamus case were not before it.
13, 2016, the Presiding Judge filed a motion for new trial
and motion for change of judge in the writ of mandamus case.
The writ court denied the motion for change of judge on July
21, 2016, but did not rule on her motion for new trial. Her
motion for new trial was denied by operation of Rule
78.06. In October 2016, the Presiding Judge filed
her notice of appeal of the trial court's amended order
and judgment denying her writ and request for attorney fees.
reviewing a trial court's dismissal of a writ of
mandamus, our concern is whether the trial court reached the
correct result. Wheat v. Missouri Bd. of Prob. and
Parole, 932 S.W.2d 835, 838 (Mo. App. W.D. 1996). We
will affirm the court's decision if the court exercised
its discretion lawfully and no abuse is shown. Id.
(citing Sampson Distrib. Co. v. Cherry, 143 S.W.2d
307, 309 (Mo. 1940)). Accordingly, we will affirm the
judgment of the trial court in a mandamus action "unless
no substantial evidence exists to support it, it is against
the weight ...