BEDFORD - A state judge has set a March trial date for a Bedford County legal dispute that has divided the commissioners and chief judge for more than a year, court documents indicate.
Commonwealth Court Senior Judge Keith B. Quigley has set a one-day trial in Harrisburg for March 25, in a move that could resolve long-simmering disagreements over court officers' pay and Bedford County President Judge Thomas Ling's right to control certain county funds.
The scheduled date comes more than 16 months after the commissioners filed suit against Ling. In the November 2012 lawsuit, they requested a ruling on Ling's allegedly illegal movement of county court funds to accounts outside auditors' review.
A separate 2012 filing - an appeal of Ling's unilateral order that the county pay probation officers - is set to be resolved after the March trial.
On Tuesday, Commissioners Chairman Kirt Morris said the trial could represent the dispute's final resolution.
Its origins date to 2011, when the commissioners suspended a long-running system of bonus advances for probation officers.
The commissioners had traditionally approved money for officers' supplemental pay, so long as the county courts repaid them later each year.
Spotty repayments, however, led the commissioners to end the advances in 2011. The dispute escalated in 2012, with Ling taking control of the funds, then returning them, and ordering the commissioners to pay his employees' bonuses or face contempt charges.
Their lawsuit and appeal aimed to keep Ling - and all other county judges across the state - from attempting such a move again.
Morris said authorities in other counties have closely watched the case in search of a legal precedent.
Both sides have showed little ability to reach a settlement: In April, Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini "washed his hands" of the case and turned it over to a colleague, the commissioners said.
Quigley's order for a trial at a Harrisburg court, however, could bring the fight to an end. In a separate decision, Quigley said the commissioners' appeal of Ling's payment order will be resolved shortly after the trial.