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County, court don't have to give back pay

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A former chief probation officer for the Clark Superior Court isn't entitled to back pay after she stepped down as chief, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

Susan Knoebel filed suit in Susan Knoebel v. Clark County Superior Court No. 1 and Clark County, Ind., No. 22A01-0808-CV-384, claiming the court and county owed her back pay once she stepped down from the chief probation officer position after a new judge took office in February 2007. She originally had her pay erroneously reduced to the minimum salary for a probation officer with just one year of experience; Knoebel had a master's degree and several years of experience. The Clark County Council adjusted her pay, relying on the 2007 Minimum Salary Schedule for Probation Officers adopted by the Judicial Conference of Indiana.

She filed suit in May 2007 seeking back pay, statutory damages, and attorney's fees for subtracting from her salary the additional amount allocated for chief probation officers after her demotion. Chief probation officers receive a salary increase of $7,500 in addition to the minimum salary based on years of experience and education.

Knoebel argued that the salary schedule states departments shall not reduce the salaries of probation officers who are paid above the minimum salary schedule. The Court of Appeals rejected her argument because the salary increase is in addition to the minimum salary, mandatory, and therefore increases the minimum salary for chief probation officers. When she received her salary for being the chief probation officer, she received the minimum salary for someone with her education and experience and never received a salary above the minimum salary schedule, wrote Judge Edward Najam. Because she was never paid above the minimum salary schedule, the court and county didn't err in reducing her salary once she was no longer the chief probation officer.

The Court of Appeals also ruled that Knoebel properly named the Superior Court and Clark County as parties in her action for back pay. Any order she obtained that didn't compel both the court to fix and the county to pay her alleged erroneous salary would provide an absence of relief to her, contrary to Indiana Trial Rule 19(A)(1), wrote Judge Najam.

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  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

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