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June 12, 2024

Shelby County – A Lesson In History – Thank You Tom Finks -Part I

By Kirk Allen & John Kraft

On June 3, 2024

Shelby Co. (ECWd) –

After having attended county board meetings all over the state for years, we see three distinct patterns as it relates to the County State’s Attorney being present or represented in a county board meeting.

  1. Those where the actual elected SA is present tend to see agenda-driven legal advice that looks more like advocating for a portion of the board’s desires rather than providing unbiased legal opinions.
  2. In those where an Assistant SA represents the SA office during a meeting, there tends to be on-the-spot legal answers to basic questions related to procedural questions and far less agenda-driven legal advice.
  3. Where no attorney from the SA office is present, we tend to see more discussion on matters that in most cases lead to a resolution on their own but in some cases an agreed need for a well-researched written legal opinion.

We have said for years we encourage county boards to focus on getting well-grounded legal advice which comes from actual research rather than on-the-spot responses during a meeting.  The way to do that is to establish an agreed question for their legal counsel and ask the answer to be written rather than just a verbal opinion. The reason for the written opinion is that those opinions tend to be much more thought out as few attorneys are willing to put their opinion on paper unless it’s well grounded in law.

While a select few citizens expressed their anger over the former SA Rob Hanlon not attending the Shelby County Board meetings, we note they said nothing when the prior SA Nichole Kroncke stopped coming to county board meetings.

We do not suggest the SA office be present during county board meetings for well-grounded reasons.  The first is the fact their presence can create a conflict in representation on matters that can cost additional taxpayer expense.  The second, and probably the most common problem, is when demands are made for on-the-spot answers to legal questions, it tends to result in bad advice that fails to consider other legal issues that could provide an accurate answer.

Tom Finks, a formerly disciplined State’s Attorney in Christian County and a former Shelby County State’s Attorney makes the case for us and will be Part II of this article.

 

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