Fairfield Ledger
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Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 16, 2018

Watkins returns to work at courthouse

By Rusty Ebert, Ledger correspondent | Jul 26, 2018

KEOSAUQUA – Van Buren County Attorney Abraham Watkins officially began his duties at 8:02 a.m., July 23, more than 18 months after he was removed from office by a district judge.

The Iowa Supreme Court issued its “procedendo,” this week, which directed the county and the court system to proceed with its June 29 order reinstating Watkins as county attorney.

The Van Buren County Board of Supervisors on July 23 met with Watkins’ legal assistant, Jill Chaplin, on personnel requests at the county attorney’s office. Until formally approved, the board gave its consensus to reimburse Watkins for the cost of a legal assistant in the county attorney’s office at a rate of $18 per hour. Watkins had requested $19, however, the current county attorney assistant was paid $18 until it was raised to $18.54 per hour this month. Supervisors also gave its consensus to advertise for the office assistant and the assistant county attorney at a rate of 85 percent of Watkins’ salary. Both actions are in keeping with previous practice, according to county auditor Jon Finney. Supervisor Ted Nixon said he thinks the county attorney’s office should be in the courthouse and not at Watkins’ private business and wants restrictions on the use of the courthouse for private business.

Meek said he has discussed these things with Watkins and they are in agreement that the office needs to be at the courthouse.

“He verbally agreed to maintain an office at the courthouse,” Meek said.

Watkins called the supervisors and discussed with Meek during the meeting what had been decided. Although he preferred the $19 per hour reimbursement for the legal assistant, he agreed with the $18 per hour decision.

The legal assistant would be part-time, so it is unclear at the present time what office hours there will be at the county attorney’s office.

Meanwhile, Watkins filed a claim with the county for his back salary since he was removed. Watkins also filed a claim for his attorney fees. The supreme court ruled that “the district court determine Watkins’ reimbursement for the reasonable attorney’s fees and any other reasonable and necessary expenses he incurred throughout the defense of these proceedings.”

In a motion on Watkins’ behalf, his attorney asked the court to keep the general public from knowing what the amount the attorney fee bill he filed was. His attorney, Gina Messamer, told the court that the fees contain “privileged information and should not be made available to the public.” Messamer said she has conferred with the county supervisor’s attorney and who “agreed” that access to the attorney fee bill be restricted to the “parties” in this case. Mary Ann Brown, chief district judge for the eighth judicial district of Iowa, permitted Watkins to submit his attorney fees statement under restricted access, even though Van Buren County taxpayers and/or the county’s insurance pool will be responsible to pay whatever the court awards.

Watkins is currently involved in a lawsuit this week with Vicki L. McDonough and Thomas E. McDonough. Both have filed claims against the other. Watkins “anticipates” that the McDonoughs will seek to admit evidence relating to the action to remove him from office as the county attorney. Watkins’ attorney filed a motion that the “scope of evidence presented on this issue must be clearly defined and specific instances of conduct are inadmissible.” Watkins’ attorney stated that “there is a danger that irrelevant reputation evidence be presented or that such evidence would unfairly become the focus of the trial.”

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