Kenneth Ackles, an embattled one-term Democrat who left office at the end of 2008, settled his lawsuit against the city quietly, signing an agreement in May.The irony here is that the City-County Council action withholding Ackles' pay was pushed by Councilor Ryan Vaughn (R), who chairs the Public Safety Committee. His law firm, Barnes & Thornburg, has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend Ackles and his office in several racial discrimination lawsuits. Two of those lawsuits were settled for $100,000 about the same time the county settled Ackles' wage payment claim. Another lawsuit brought by the former forensic pathologists for the office is still pending in federal district court. As I've previously disclosed, I represent the plaintiffs in those lawsuits against the coroner's office. An EEOC administrative law judge also awarded former Chief Deputy Coroner John Linehan more than $400,000 in a separate claim he brought against the office, which the EEOC in Washington, D.C. affirmed on appeal. The City's corporation counsel's office has said it will appeal that decision to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Linehan also has another pending action against the coroner's office for defamation, resulting from Ackles' false accusation claiming that Linehan had engaged in ghost employment while employed at the coroner's office.
Ackles received twice the wages withheld over nine months in 2008 -- totaling nearly $60,000, minus taxes and other withholdings, making for $25,000 in net pay, said Jon Mayes, the city's chief litigation counsel. The city also paid $12,500 to cover Ackles' attorney's fees.
Had the city lost in state court, Indiana's Wage Payment Statute would have required double wages and attorney's fees anyway. City officials decided not to fight.
"Rather than litigate and risk paying significant attorneys fees, the matter was settled," said Robert Vane, deputy chief of staff for Mayor Greg Ballard. "We think that was the lowest cost resolution for the taxpayers."
The council's Republican majority and four Democrats, acting on news reports that Ackles had failed to pass three sections of a newly required 10-part exam, directed the county auditor to withhold Ackles' pay in March 2008.
Ackles, paid an annual $38,501 salary for part-time duties, argued the new requirement -- mandated by a 2007 state law -- couldn't be applied retroactively to coroners in office.
"Once a person's doing a job, you've got to pay him," Paul Ogden, one of his attorneys, said last week. "That's just how the law is."
As outrageous as it may seem that the county had to pay Ackles double his withheld pay and cover his attorney's fees, that's simply what the law requires in this situation when you are not paid by your employer what is due you in wages. The City-County Council should have never retroactively applied that law to Ackles. The proper action would have been to pressure Ackles to resign from the office, whose four-year tenure has proven extremely costly to taxpayers. I've been extremely disappointed at the Republican-controlled council for not scrutinizing his budget. His management decisions, including the cancellation of the former forensic pathology contract and hiring nearly double the number of full-time staff, have resulted in a more than 50% increase in the coroner's budget. Republicans on the council, including Vaughn, approved his budgets without questioning his actions. Vaughn as Public Safety Committee Chairman should have been focused on reducing Ackles' budget and not unconstitutionally withholding his pay. His and other councilors failure to perform proper oversight has cost taxpayers dearly. Ackles' successor, Dr. Frank Lloyd, has done nothing to undo the costly changes to the office implemented by Ackles.