Commissioner gets separate legal representation in suit brought by sheriff

Clay County Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte is receiving separate legal representation in the sheriff's lawsuit against the county after commissioners approved the contract June 3. The contract had been a point of contention between Nolte and Eastern Commissioner Luann Ridgeway, who disagreed with Nolte's previous inaction on the contract. Nolte said he was advised by legal counsel to previously abstain from a vote on the contract.

CLAY COUNTY — After weeks of contentious debate on the matter, Presiding Clay County Commissioner Jerry Nolte has separate legal representation to defend him in the lawsuit brought against the county by Sheriff Paul Vescovo.

Approval of the separate legal counsel came during a multiple-hours long commission meeting June 3. The separate counsel contract had been a point of contention between Nolte and Eastern Commissioner Luann Ridgeway, who previously said she would vote for Nolte’s counsel contract, which he is entitled to as a commissioner, only if Nolte did not abstain from a vote on the matter as he did at a previous commission meeting on advice from a lawyer.

At the June 3 commission meeting, Nolte motioned to approve the contract with Kuhlman Reddoch & Sullivan. Under the approved contract, the county will pay $300 per hour for an attorney and any additional costs associated with copying, obtaining documents and information, investigation, court costs and travel expenses.

“I was a bit surprised it took this long to come to an agreement on,” Nolte told the Courier-Tribune after the June 3 meeting.

In her arguments for Nolte needing to vote on the contract in a commission meeting in May, Ridgeway said Nolte is using the matter to grandstand for the public while simultaneously not taking action despite a representative from the law firm Husch Blackwell telling him there is no reason he could not vote to approve the contract. Nolte, she said, is named in the suit as a member of the commission and not a private citizen, so he should vote.

Vescovo filed a lawsuit against Clay County Commission in April, seeking $1.75 million from the 2019 general fund to cover obligations and shortfalls related to the responsibilities of his office, as well as legal fees and damages.

Vescovo said the suit was needed following “drastic” cuts made to his department’s operating budget.

Nolte said he was public about his support of Vescovo and his desire to provide more funding for the sheriff’s office in the budget but has not commented on the litigation since the filing of the lawsuit, adding his conscience and legal counsel suggested he abstain from a vote on the approval of his separate legal counsel contract.

At the June 3 meeting, Ridgeway said she supported Nolte’s counsel because he was entitled to it but hopes another situation doesn’t arise where Nolte puts himself at odds with the county.

“Even if it’s not your point of view, you have a duty to defend the county,” she said.

A bench trial in the case is scheduled for 9 a.m. Aug. 7 and 8, in Clay County Circuit Court, 11 S. Water St. in Liberty.

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