Fulton County coroner may sue over pay

JOHNSTOWN – Fulton County Coroner Art Simmons is taking steps to sue the county over a $1,680 stipend the county is giving the county’s other coroner, Margaret Luck.

Simmons wants a court either to rescind the stipend or order the county to give him the same payment, according to legal papers he filed.

Simmons says the board showed an “abuse of discretion” last fall when it granted the stipend, according to the legal papers.

Represented by Amsterdam attorney William E. Lorman, Simmons on Friday filed a request for judicial intervention – a precursor for a possible lawsuit – in state Supreme Court.

In the legal papers, Simmons alleges the county Board of Supervisors on Nov. 26 was “in violation of [his] rights” and “equal protection clauses” under federal and state law by granting the stipend to Luck for administrative work.

The stipend Luck received equates to about $140 per month and was effective Jan. 1.

Fulton County employs two elected coroners – Luck and Simmons – who receive equal pay for death investigations on a per-call basis. They often work independently. The coroner’s office has about $25,000 budgeted for this year.

The resolution passed by the Board of Supervisors granting Luck’s stipend stated it was independent of the coroners’ caseload payments and shouldn’t be considered part of Luck’s base pay.

Luck sought the stipend in July, saying she should be paid for administrative work she’s been doing on behalf of the coroner’s office since 1997.

Simmons opposed the stipend. In an Aug. 20 memo to county Administrative Officer Jon Stead, Simmons wrote, “Several times I have reviewed [Luck’s] proposal and find at this time that I am opposed to it, as presented. Also, I am requesting her proposal be put on hold at this time to be studied further.”

Four supervisors voted against the stipend – Broadalbin Supervisor Joseph DiGiacomo, Northampton Supervisor Linda Kemper, Gloversville 2nd Ward Supervisor Frank Lauria Jr. and Gloversville 5th Ward Supervisor Michael Ponticello.

In his legal action, Simmons said the board’s action was in violation of civil service law. He requested an Article 78 proceeding to determine whether Luck’s stipend violated his rights. He said he “assumes virtually all the same duties and responsibilities that Coroner Luck assumes.”

Simmons wants the court to rule the stipend “invalid and rescinded” or order the Board of Supervisors to give him the “same identical stipend.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman William Waldron this morning had no comment, adding he hasn’t see the legal action yet.

Lorman didn’t return a phone call seeking comment this morning.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at johnstown@leaderherald.com.