BEDFORD - Bedford County's chief judge has placed a $93,000 court fund under the control of a newly formed corporate entity, commissioners said Tuesday, taking another shot in a months-long dispute over hundreds of thousands of dollars.
President Judge Thomas Ling recently attached a fund intended for drunken-driver classes to an entity with a new employer ID number - indicating a newly formed business - Commissioner Chairman Kirt Morris said after a Tuesday meeting.
The commissioners suggested that Ling might be attempting to start a new company to teach the DUI classes, often a part of convicted drunken drivers' punishments. While Ling's office legally controls the fund, the commissioners raised ethical questions over the possibility that he could also control the money's final destination.
"If you're paying somebody dollars, the person you're paying is getting a profit from it," Commissioner Paul Crooks said.
Ling has not responded to calls seeking comment for several weeks.
The battle between the commissioners and the judge's office has raged for months, with its origins in another disputed court fund.
For years, the county had annually forwarded money to the probation office, to be used for extra expenses and officers' supplemental pay. Each year, the office paid the money back when cash from a state criminal fee arrived.
In 2011, however, the probation office's tab reached $180,000, leading the county commissioners to shut off the loan supply until the debt was repaid.
Ling and Chief Probation Officer Keith Bowser, angry that the commissioners were holding back officers' extra pay, traded accusations with county officials during a May public meeting.
Since then, each side has attempted to punish the other: Ling and Bowser seized the DUI fund and put it into a new bank account - with its own, non-county auditors - while the commissioners threatened to lay off a probation office employee paid through the withheld funds.
In addition, Ling has reportedly held back more than $200,000 in county money - money that the commissioners have said will be integral to Bedford County's operation as the year goes on.
"We really need it. And the judge knows we really need it," Commissioner Steven Howsare said.
Repeated attempts to solve the crisis have proceeded at a snail's pace: Ling refuses to meet the commissioners face-to-face, they said, instead communicating periodically through the county solicitor.
Ling has joked, "Maybe I'll give it to the commissioners in a Christmas card," Morris said, suggesting he might hold the $200,000 as long as he legally can.
The sticking point, the commissioners said, is their unwillingness to resume forwarding taxpayer money on credit to the probation office.
"Some of the judge's proposals simply do not go down," Crooks said.
The commissioners said they've been studying legal avenues with the county solicitor, who has investigated past cases of Pennsylvania county-judge disputes.
Many counties pay outside contractors to teach DUI classes, they said, but if Ling intends to run the operation himself, he'll likely have to do it somewhere other than a government building.
"The courthouse is not in business for profit," Morris said.
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.