TIFTON -- A judge will decide soon whether an employee of Tift County should or should not receive back pay in the amount of $10,796 after hearing the case in State Court Tuesday.

Darlene Laska, who works for Magistrate Judge Doug Jones, filed suit 18 months ago arguing that she should have been paid statutory supplemental pay from the time former Magistrate Judge Sue Merritt hired her in 2000. The county contends that Laska doesn't serve dual roles and isn't entitled to the compensation.

Laska said she responded to an advertisement in The Tifton Gazette for the position of Clerk of the Magistrate Court in May 2000 and Merritt promised to pay her the $236.25 per month supplement in addition to the agreed-upon hourly pay.

Merritt testified that county officials told her that Laska wasn't entitled to the supplement but that Laska did receive a raise. Laska said believing she would receive the supplement each month helped her decide to accept the job.

Two days after she was hired, Laska claims she discovered she had been entered into the payroll system as a Staff Assistant II and would not be receiving the supplement.

Laska's job title was changed to Clerk of Magistrate Court by then-Tift County Manager Wayne Johnson and he testified Tuesday that the supplement was included in her salary after the payroll change.

After letters from then-Laska attorney Lynn Kelley, Laska began receiving the supplement in October 2003. She is seeking back pay in the amount of $10,796 for the 19 months from the date of her hiring until that point.

According to testimony Tuesday, two prior Clerks of Magistrate Court received the statutory compensation. Hank Pittman, attorney for Tift County, argues that Laska is not entitled to the supplement because she doesn't serve in another position, such as clerk of superior, state or juvenile courts.

Laska's present attorney, John Spurlin, argues that the county has changed its position several times and the fact that two prior Magistrate clerks were paid the supplement sets a precedent.

State Court Judge Larry Mims is expected to render his verdict in the case within two weeks.

To contact city editor Angie Thompson, call 382-4321.

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