Judge rules on attempt to claim money

Wednesday, September 12, 2001

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The state cannot force two Cole County judges to turn over more than $2 million in disputed funds, some of which was used to pay for courthouse improvements and staff salaries, a judge has ruled.

Osage County Circuit Court Judge Gael D. Wood ruled Monday that Attorney General Jay Nixon cannot force judges Byron Kinder and Thomas Brown III to turn over $2.75 million remaining from state cases involving utility bill overpayments and an insolvent insurance company.

"It is undisputed that Judges Kinder and Brown are duly elected and qualified circuit judges," said Dale Doerhoff, an attorney representing the judges. "The attorney general's attempt to make individual judges the issue was misguided and so far failed."

Nixon has asserted that the two judges have exercised unlawful control over the money, acting beyond the scope of their powers. He said the money should have been turned over to the Unclaimed Properties Division of the treasurer's office.

Kinder and Brown have said the state has no legal standing to the funds.

Some of the interest from the funds were spent to remodel courtrooms, including carpeting, new benches, decorative painting and a courtroom for one of the judges, according to a state audit last year.

State Auditor Claire McCaskill said most of the claimants had not been located and that little or no follow-up was being done to find them. She recommended that the judges consider turning over the assets to the state treasurer.

Kinder and Brown haven't handled the money for more than a month.

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