Knox County won’t appeal court ruling on sheriff’s authority

Posted March 20, 2012, at 8:41 p.m.
Knox County Sheriff Donna Dennison
Knox County Sheriff Donna Dennison

ROCKLAND, Maine — The Knox County commissioners voted Tuesday not to appeal a Superior Court justice’s ruling that sided with its sheriff over who has control over personnel matters within her department.

The vote was unanimous, Chairman Roger Moody said after the meeting.

Justice Jeffrey Hjelm ruled March 2 that the sheriff retains responsibility for administering and directing investigations, personnel practices and decisions within her department.

Knox County Sheriff Donna Dennison initiated the lawsuit in state court with the backing of the Maine Sheriffs’ Association.

Hjelm ruled that the part of the Knox County charter — approved by voters in Knox County that gave authority to the county administrator to intervene in personnel matters including disciplinary actions — was void. He said the county charter was in conflict with state law that grants such authority to the elected sheriff.

Jonathan Berry, an attorney for the sheriffs’ association, said the ruling applies statewide and was a major victory for the elected law enforcement officers.

Berry said last week that the state law is clear that the county commissioners have the authority to set the budgets for the sheriff’s departments and the sheriffs must operate within those budgetary limits.

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