Former Shawnee County Treasurer Rita Cline is on a honeymoon and unavailable to comment on her response to a $24,456 lawsuit filed against her by the Shawnee County Commission, according to a statement released by her attorney.
In her response, filed Thursday morning by Topeka attorney Chris Joseph, Cline denied committing acts of fraud in connection with payments to a contractual employee and a Topeka attorney.
“I am looking forward to my day in court, but I regret the county commissioners wasting taxpayers’ hard-earned money,” Cline said in the statement released by Joseph.
According to the statement, Cline wasn’t available for comment because she is “on a honeymoon out of state.”
The county filed the lawsuit after Employers Mutual Casualty Corp., the bond company that insured Cline as a public official, denied a portion of a $34,356 claim filed by the county.
County officials had filed the claim in an attempt to recover money from the Shawnee County Motor Vehicle Department that Cline had used to buy out the contract of Kate Carty, who worked at the Shawnee County Motor Vehicle Annex at White Lakes Center, and later $10,000 to retain a Topeka attorney as legal counsel.
County officials say the $24,456 figure in the lawsuit represents four payments, including two bonuses, Cline made to Carty.
In her response, Cline requested that her attorney fees and any judgement against her be paid by the county.
Joseph said the county “will likely be required to pay any judgement obtained against Ms. Cline, as well as her attorney fees.”
“In this case, the county is essentially suing itself,” he said.
He said the Kansas Tort Claims Act gives Cline the right to make the request. He said the tort act would consider Cline, as a public official, an employee of the county.
Assistant county counselor Jim Crowl said the county disagrees with Joseph’s interpretation of the act. It is the county’s position that Cline was acting outside her capacity as county treasurer when she used the special motor vehicle funds to buy out Carty’s contract and to retain legal counsel.
“That was the reason for the claims filed against her by the district attorney and I suspect the reason why she resigned,” Crowl said.
Joseph said the county wouldn’t be accountable for Cline’s expenses if it can prove Cline committed fraud.
But there are three components to the fraud, he said — the bonuses Cline paid to Carty, the $10,000 retainer fee for an attorney and the buy-out payments to Carty.
The county counselor and the commission viewed the first contract between Cline and Carty and didn’t object, said Joseph.
“To claim almost two years later that the bonus payments made pursuant to the contracts constituted negligence and fraud is irresponsible,” he said.
Joseph also said it was understandable why Cline thought there was a “buy-out” provision in Carty’s contract because the two had discussed including such a provision. And the contract language is “confusing,” he said.
“The bottom line is, I wouldn’t expect Rita Cline to read that and it be obvious to her,” he said, “It’s just not clear. And if anyone tells me that they can read that and it makes perfect sense to them, they’re smarter than I am because I don’t think it’s clear at all.”
Joseph said the county didn’t lose any money on the $10,000 payment Cline made to retain legal services as the money was paid back.
© Copyright 2003 CJOnline / The Topeka Capital-Journal / Morris Communications
By Alicia Henrikson
THE TOPEKA CAPITAL-JOURNAL