Attorney General Chris Koster has filed a civil petition and misdemeanor charges against Cass County Circuit Clerk Amy Bell.
The two-count misdemeanor charges filed on Tuesday, Sept. 17, alleges that Bell willfully failed to properly preserve records to manage funds earmarked for scanning and purging hard copy files. In addition to the criminal charges, the civil petition asks the circuit court to remove Bell from office.
In the civil case, Koster alleges that Bell failed to pay the circuit court's bills on time; failed to stop payment or void undeliverable checks; failed to adequately document all of the court's bank accounts; and failed to prepare necessary paperwork to file an insurance claim regarding funds allegedly stolen by a deputy clerk.
Koster said Bell was suspended from her position as circuit clerk on Aug. 20 by Cass County Circuit Judge William Collins, after she hired a close friend to oversee three special projects involving the transfer of paper records into an electronic format.
Although Bell's friend was paid to do the work, Koster said, the work was never completed and resulted in the loss of numerous court documents including original judgments, child support letters, exhibits, and in one case, an entire case file.
Bell has ten days to file a response to the allegations against her.
Koster became involved in Bell's case when his office was appointed as a special prosecutor by Judge Collins.
The Cass County Commission has noted several issues pertaining to mismanagement in the office during recent months.
In May, the Commission made a decision to file a performance bond claim after former Circuit Clerk staff member Emily Rumbley allegedly stole nearly $6,674 from the county last year.
Rumbley was formally charged in December with Class C felony theft and was removed from her position as a clerk in October.
At that time, Bell did not wish to comment on the matter.
OSCA made a site visit to the Cass County Circuit Court during the weeks of Dec. 3-14. The reason for the visit was a financial review at the request of the former 17th Judicial Circuit Presiding Judge Jacqueline Cook.
“The request for a financial review resulted from an alleged theft of funds from the court. Specifically, money was allegedly stolen while in transit to the bank for deposit by a court clerk,” said Court Business Services Accounting Coordinator Susan Shields in a Jan. 29 letter to Bell. “The suspected clerk’s financial transactions were reviewed in detail to see if any manipulation of the financial records could be detected. The review included, but was not limited to, compliance with financial related court operating rules, statutes and reviews of the court’s internal controls.”
In an attached report, the state made a number of recommendations regarding the segregation of duties and supervisory reviews, deposit internal controls and supervision, receipt keeping, banking, end of the day/month procedures, and the management of fees, payment plans and court collections.