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Coroner sues over colleague's stipend

Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - Updated: 4:30 PM

By JAIME STUDD

Recorder News Staff

JOHNSTOWN -- Fulton County Coroner Arthur Simmons has filed a lawsuit against the county and the Board of Supervisors over its decision to grant Margaret Luck, the county's other coroner, a $1,680 annual stipend for what were said to be additional duties she has undertaken.

According to the Notice of Petition, marked "received" by the Fulton County Clerk's Office on Friday, Simmons is requesting a judgment pursuant to an Article 78 proceeding, arguing that the stipend violates equal protection clauses of both the Federal and State Constitutions and "possibly" a section of Civil Service Law.

Simmons is asking that the stipend either be rescinded or that he be granted "the same identical stipend."

The stipend was authorized by the Fulton County Board of Supervisors in December and took effect Jan. 1, and was said to be for administrative work related to the office.

Luck is receiving the stipend in bi-weekly payments of $140.

Luck first approached the board last July, asking for the additional money as compensation for having taken on additional duties said to be necessary for the routine operation of the office.

According to the resolution passed in December, those duties include "agenda item preparation, budget monitoring, budget amendments and budget preparation."

Fulton County employs two elected coroners, Simmons and Luck, who are paid per death investigation and routinely work independently of each other.

The Notice of Petition notes that Simmons also serves as a coroner and "assumes virtually all the same duties and responsibilities that Coroner Luck assumes."

The petition also calls the decision by the Board of Supervisors to grant the stipend "arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, unsupported by substantial evidence, and contrary to law and a violation of due process of law."

On Monday, Simmons referred all questions to Amsterdam Attorney William E. Lorman, who is representing him in the matter.

"There are two coroners in Fulton County. They both perform the same services. They both have the same job description. The other coroner apparently voluntarily does work or does stuff that is not assigned to her as part of her duties and responsibilities and for her to get a stipend without Mr. Simmons getting one is discriminatory and is not supported by the fact that they each do the same thing," Lorman said. "Either they both should get a stipend or neither one should get a stipend, but it's inappropriate for one to get one when they perform essentially the same duties."

"There are laws that require equal pay for equal work. Mr. Simmons is doing the same thing as Coroner Luck is doing, but he's getting $1,600 less a year to do it," he added. "I think it's a Constitutional violation."

Lorman said it is not yet known when the case might be heard.

According to the Fulton County Attorney's Office, County Attorney Arthur Spring is currently out of town. All questions were referred to Assistant County Attorney Jason Brott, who, along with Fulton County Board of Supervisors Chairman William Waldron, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

     

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