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State court rules hearing should have been held in controller's dispute

Published August 17. 2011 05:01PM

A three judge panel of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court agreed with Schuylkill County Controller Melinda Kantner that a Schuylkill County judge should have held a hearing on the mandamus action filed against her by the county commissioners before ruling against her.

The Commonwealth Court vacated the order of Judge Charles M. Miller and ordered a hearing to be held on the dispute. Miller's order directed Kantner to file certain financial reports by Oct. 1, 2010. Kantner appealed the order claiming it should not have been granted because there were factual disputes and the higher court agreed.

The commissioners filed a mandamus complaint against Kantner seeking to compel her to file certain reports required under the county code and to assist the auditor the commissioners hired to make an independent audit of the county spending.

Kantner and the auditor hired by the commissioners, L. Samuel Deegan, CPA, of Pottsville, did not hit it off. Kantner claimed he did not have the experience to perform the task while Deegan claimed lack of cooperation from the controller for him to do his audit.

Miller ruled in favor of the commissioners and ordered Kantner to file the annual report, which is a separate report from one prepared by the independent auditor, by Oct. 1, 2010.

Historically, the county had the annual reports prepared by an outside auditor and then, after the controller's review, the controller filed a audit to the county and the state. She claimed her inability to file a timely audit was because of Deegan's "shortcoming.'

In overturning the county judge, the state court ruled, "The trial judge held that Section 1720 of the County Code imposed a mandatory duty upon the controller to complete the annual reports before July 1, 2010, and that the controller's past practice of using the outside auditor's report could not meet the requirements of the code. Similary the controller's duty was not contingent upon the assistance of an outside auditor.

"The trial judge found that the only factual material to the case was the need to file annual reports by July 1, 2010, was not in dispute. According, the trial judge granted the commissioners their peremptory mandamus which the controller appealed.

"A writ of mandamus, 'the higher court ruled,' is an extraordinary remedy which seeks to compel official performance of a ministerial act or mandatory duty. A writ of mandamus may be issued only where there is a clear legal right to grant the plaintiff and a lack of any other appropriate or adequate remedy.

"A record is needed to explain why the controller failed to meet the deadline in order to determine whether she has a viable defense to the commissioners' mandamus action. The case is remanded back to the county judge to hold an evidentuary hearing."

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