Sheriff, county lawsuit trial ends with split decision

JACKSON, Tenn. — Tuesday morning, the saga of Sheriff John Mehr’s lawsuit against Madison County ended, with a ruling by Judge Bill Acree.

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Mehr was asking for 10 additional deputies and a 7% salary raise for certified officers. They initially asked for a 2% increase for all other employees, but they decided to not pursue that request.

Judge Acree denied the request for 10 officers.

“The court finds that the sheriff has properly and efficiently conducted the affairs of his office with his existing staff. And has failed to carry his burden of proof,” Acree said.

However, the judge did grant the sheriff the salary raise for all certified officers in the department.

His reasoning was that the sheriff’s office proved their current pay was non-competitive, and the main reason for attrition in the department was the pay.

“There’s no evidence that a lesser amount would accomplish this purpose,” Acree said. “The court finds that the certified officers are entitled to be awarded a 7% pay increase.”

The county’s lawyers previously argued that rewarding the pay increase would set a bad precedent.

“The law does not afford the sheriff to submit a budget, have it approved, and then turn around and sue the county for more,” Attorney Geoffrey Lindley said.

However, the salary raises are not retroactive — meaning they will be included in next year’s budget.

“It makes a difference,” said Madison County Mayor Jimmy Harris. “It gives us the ability to be able to adjust to that, much better than a real big payout that we would have to come up with.”

Mayor Harris spoke with WBBJ afterwards, saying that while they considered today a win for law enforcement, they think it could have been handled differently.

“There’s no doubt that we needed to give some raises. Now I think that we could have done that without a lawsuit,” Harris said.

“In my opinion, from a legal perspective, I think the county came out on top today,” Lindley said.

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The most pressing issue from the trial is how much those salary raises are going to cost the county.

Mayor Harris and Commissioner Jeff Wall said the numbers are not confirmed yet, and they need to review the projections, but it will be hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Another huge cost: actually going to trial.

According to records obtained by WBBJ, the total cost to the county side for legal representation to this point is over $200,000.

But taxpayers are also paying for the sheriff’s side, who sued the county in the first place, meaning the legal fees might total over $500,000.

So, over one year after the lawsuit started, taxpayers might be out nearly a million dollars — during an economic recession.

“I just think it was a waste of time and money, and we could have come to some sort of resolution,” Mayor Harris said.

Both Sheriff John Mehr and Attorney Lawrence Laurenzi chose not to speak with WBBJ afterwards.

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