Legal costs grow in Bedford case

BEDFORD – The financial battle between the Bedford County commissioners and the county’s chief judge hasn’t ended yet, with the judge’s court-ordered repayment on hold, a Supreme Court appeal filed and legal expenses mounting.

The county hasn’t received the nearly $250,000 the Commonwealth Court ordered President Judge Thomas S. Ling to turn over. The state court ruled on May 21 that Ling must hand over the money – the balance of the credit the county has loaned the court-controlled probation office over several years.

Shortly after the ruling, Ling said he would likely file an appeal to the state’s highest court. His appeal was filed June 20 and entered into the Supreme Court system June 25, according to online court documents.

It’s not clear whether the high court will accept the appeal request or reject Ling’s argument, sealing the commissioners’ victory. Until the court issues a response, the commissioners’ repayment is on hold.

“I think you know what my thoughts would be. I’d like them to say they’re not going to hear it and be done with it,” said Commissioner Chairman Kirt Morris, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Ling.

The battle stems from a practice followed for years in the Bedford courthouse: The commissioners would forward money to the court, which controls the county probation office, for extra equipment and officers’ pay bonuses. With the office’s debt mounting, however, the commissioners ended the practice in 2011 and demanded Ling pay them the balance.

A legal and financial battle ensued, with Ling taking control of other court-related funds and keeping them from county auditors’ attention.

The May 21 ruling allowed the commissioners to take money back until the debt is repaid. On Tuesday, the commissioners said they could have begun seizing the money immediately – but with rumors swirling of Ling’s likely appeal, they delayed the move.

While both sides await a Supreme Court reply, the legal cost covered by taxpayers is set to grow, Morris said. The commissioners said the county’s legal fees have reached roughly 40 percent of the total Ling allegedly owes them.

“I certainly don’t want to spend more than we want to get,” he said. “That’s ridiculous.”

The commissioners could have some help as their case reaches the high court: The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania has promised to file court briefs in their favor, Morris said.

Representing commissioners across the state, the group has long backed the Bedford officials in their fight, with its director praising the Commonwealth Court decision as a precedent for other counties’ money battles.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.