A Cass County elected official who refused to pay out a payroll voucher has failed to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals to overturn the local trial court’s imposition of a contempt finding against her.
In Cheryl Alcorn v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-2849, the Cass County Council appropriated $25,000 in 2018 to allow the Cass Superior Court to hire a fourth court employee. The funds were not restricted, and on Oct. 15, the court chose to hire a retired schoolteacher to become a full-time court reporter. Due to prior commitments, the court reporter was phased in to full-time work to accommodate teaching obligations.
Then on Oct. 29, the trial court submitted a payroll voucher to Cheryl Alcorn, the county auditor, approving a $14.01 per hour payment rate for the new reporter. Alcorn, however, refused to pay the voucher as submitted, choosing instead to pay a rate of $12.50 per hour because the reporter had only worked part-time up to that point. Prior to the hiring of the court reporter, the county council had set the hourly rate for part-time employees at $12.50.
The trial court found Alcorn in direct and indirect contempt, issuing a citation that said her refusal to pay the court reporter a full-time rate “substantially disrupt[ed] the operation of the court.” The auditor eventually agreed to pay the full-time rate “under protest,” so the court did not impose sanctions on her.
Even so, Alcorn appealed the contempt finding, arguing the payroll claim voucher was not a court order. But declining to determine whether the voucher was an order, the Court of Appeals determined Alcorn failed to demonstrate the Cass Superior Court erred in finding her in direct contempt.
“And it appears, as the trial court found, that Alcorn’s refusal to pay the court reporter at the higher wage from appropriated funds substantially interfered with the operation of the court,” Judge Edward Najam wrote for the unanimous appellate panel. “Alcorn has not directed us to any evidence in the record, or made any argument, to the contrary from which we might conclude that her actions did not constitute direct contempt.”
Alcorn also argued that even if the voucher were an order, she could not be held in contempt for failure to comply because the county council, not the trial court, set the court reporter’s wages.
“But as discussed above, we need not decide whether the payroll voucher is a court order because Alcorn has not met her burden on appeal to demonstrate that her actions did not constitute direct contempt,” Najam said. “We note, however, that, if the payroll voucher were a court order, Alcorn was required to comply with it.”