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Conflicts between Adair County's elected officials have been on display since April, when Circuit Clerk Linda Decker aired grievances with Second Circuit Presiding Judge Russell Steele during the normally routine State of the Judiciary event.
Then in October, County Commissioners Stan Pickens, Mark Thompson and Carson Adams had a courtroom battle with Steele after the commission attempted to stop paying Court Services Administrator Matt Holt, who manages the Bruce Normile Juvenile Justice Center. That spat reached the Missouri Court of Appeals.
On Dec. 9 a former Adair County deputy circuit clerk, Susan Gall, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Steele, alleging he violated her civil rights when he terminated her employment.
Documents filed in court detailed an eight-month power struggle in the courthouse, with Steele having become the "appointing authority" over deputy clerks via a 3-1 vote of the second circuit judges (Associate Circuit Judge Kristie Swaim voted against the measure). The lawsuit states that power should instead rest with the circuit clerk.
Why it matters
This has been a public, ugly and embarrassing fight between officials elected to serve Adair County residents, and has as a result damaged confidence local residents have in the offices involved.
The lawsuit itself will serve to establish a precedent for how the state divides powers between its elected circuit judges and elected circuit clerks, both of whom need deputy clerks to function in a way to support the work of their offices. State statute gives the power to circuit clerks, but circuit judges can act to change court rules. This decision will help shape future relationships.