Lake Station city judge believes he's been under fire

2012-11-10T17:37:00Z 2012-12-03T17:02:09Z Lake Station city judge believes he's been under fireDeborahl Laverty deborah.laverty@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2223 nwitimes.com

LAKE STATION | Lake Station City Judge Chris Anderson recalls a feeling of disbelief when learning last summer most city officials turned against him.

"When they did what they did I didn't even receive a phone call about what was going on," Anderson said.

The City Council met in special session on June 13 to transfer two clerk positions, including the previously fired stepdaughter of Mayor Keith Soderquist, out of Anderson's supervision and budget and into that of the clerk-treasurer.

"How can they do clearly illegal acts?" Anderson asked.

Anderson's supervision of the two clerk positions and the related budget were restored on Oct. 29 following an agreed order issued by Lake Superior Court Judge Calvin Hawkins.

City officials named in the suit filed by Anderson included the City Council, Mayor Keith Soderquist and Clerk-Treasurer Brenda Samuels.

As part of the agreement, officials also are ordered to pay the $31,257 in fees charged by Anderson's two attorneys.

Anderson said he's been criticized for filing the lawsuit and the subsequent costs to taxpayers, but feels he had no choice.

Soderquist said Anderson did have another choice.

"This is a lesson learned by all parties that when there are disagreements we need to sit down and do our best to resolve them prior to litigation," Soderquist said.

Anderson said city officials also have continued to criticize him for bringing in less revenue through court fees, claiming he's waived court fees.

"They were trying to justify what they did to me by making allegations that I'm waiving court fees. ... Hypothetically speaking, I'm not sure how transferring my staff would solve that problem," Anderson said.

Anderson denies he's ever waived any court fees.

Rather, total revenue from court-related fees has been reduced because there have been fewer total cases, Anderson said.

Those are statistics backed in information released through the Lake County Government's data processing department.

There were 7,046 Lake Station City Court cases in 2009 and 2,816 cases in 2011, county officials said.

County officials weren't able to provide total revenue during those two years.

"That's about one-third the caseload," Anderson said.

Soderquist said that court revenue has decreased from about $150,000 in 2009 then dropped to $58,000 in 2011.

"When revenue continues to decline that's a problem," Soderquist said.

Anderson agrees with Soderquist that collections are down by about one-third between 2009 and 2011, but not because of his waiving fees.

"It's not like I like you so I'm agreeing to waive fees. ... I'd be happy to have any council member sit down with me in my courtroom," Anderson said.

Anderson said he's also been criticized for continuing the lawsuit against city officials after a verbal agreement was reached by all parties in mid-August.

The continuation was due to some unresolved issues Anderson had with city officials, including not giving his new court clerk a key, removing court-related files transported to the old City Hall and changing locks at the old City Hall.

Soderquist said there are explanations for what happened, including no prior knowledge a new court clerk had been hired.

"We had many records and files taken back to the old City Hall, not just the courts. And the locks were changed because 1,000 people have that key at the old City Hall," Soderquist said.

Anderson believes the transfer of his two clerks was directly related to him firing the mayor's stepdaughter, Miranda Brakley, on June 7.

"I never had any problems or issues with the court before June 7. That's when the issues came to light," Anderson said.

Soderquist denies that allegation.

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