Mo. courts block garnishment for COs' back pay

Recent court rulings say $118 million awarded to COs for unpaid work cannot be enforced


Pat Pratt
Columbia Daily Tribune, Mo.

COLE COUNTY, Mo. — Garnishments of state bank accounts totaling $118 million awarded to corrections officers for unpaid work cannot be enforced, according to a pair of recent court rulings.

A Cole County jury in August awarded Missouri corrections officers the multi-million dollar judgment after Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce approved a summary judgment that the officers were not paid for time spent on required duties before and after they clocked in and out from their posts.

Joyce also ordered the Department of Corrections to implement a new timekeeping system to keep track of the hours in question.

The state appealed the decision, although it is in the process of implementing new timekeeping systems, and asked the Western District Court of Appeals to put the judgment on hold until it reached a decision.

Corrections officers, in the meantime, asked Joyce to hold the state in contempt for not abiding the lower court's orders. The officers then requested a garnishment of state bank accounts for the award, which was issued by the Cole County Circuit Clerk in March.

The appeals court on May 13 sided with the state, writing in a two-page order signed by Chief Judge Karen Mitchell that the case was automatically on hold because an appeal was filed and in accordance with precedent, the state could not be garnished.

"In short, because execution may not be had upon the state, there is no necessity for a stay," Mitchell wrote.

The appellate ruling also spurred Joyce to toss the motion filed to hold the state in contempt. The Office of Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, which is representing the department of corrections, said it did not wish to comment because the litigation is ongoing.

Attorney Gary Burger, who is representing the corrections officers, said he respected the court's ruling and the state is entitled to due process, but he will keep fighting to ensure his clients receive the compensation they are entitled to.

"We look forward to completing the appellate process and getting justice for the largest officer force in the state of Missouri," Burger said.

The state has already filed it's brief in the appeals court and Burger said he expects to file his in the next few weeks. A date for arguments has not been set.

In her August ruling, Joyce found that the department's timekeeping practices required officers to clock in and out when they arrived at and departed from their assigned post. However, officers were required to complete multiple tasks, and in some cases respond to emergency or other situations, before arriving at their posts or after leaving.

Officers arrive at a secured entrance to the prison in uniform and are required to undergo a search and step through a metal detector. They were also required to log their entry electronically or on paper and/or submit to a fingerprint or palm scan.

Keys or radios would also have to be picked up or returned before walking to their post or on their way out. Sometimes lines formed during these activities, adding to their unpaid time. Officers were also required to receive post assignments from a supervisor and pass along information.

If fights, emergencies or criminal activity were observed during any of the pre- or post-shift activities, officers were expected to act, despite not being compensated, according to case documents.

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©2019 Columbia Daily Tribune, Mo.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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