HEISKELL et al.
Mandamus. Walker Superior Court. Before Judge Salmon, Senior Judge.
Wm. David Cunningham, Benjamin T. Bradford, Donald F. Oliver, for appellants.
Farrar & Corbin, Archibald A. Farrar, Jr., for appellee.
James F. Grubiak, G. Joseph Scheuer, amici curiae.
NAHMIAS, Justice. All the Justices concur.
Bruce Roberts filed suit against Walker County and its sole commissioner, Bebe Heiskell (collectively, " Appellants" ), claiming that the county underpaid him for the 15 months that he served as judge of the State Court of Walker County. Appellants denied any underpayment, denied Roberts's request to pay his legal fees in connection with the case, and filed counterclaims alleging among other things that the county actually overpaid Roberts each month and was entitled to reimbursement for the overpayments. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court granted Roberts's mandamus claim and ordered the county to pay him $78,878.55 in unpaid salary; dismissed Appellants' counterclaims as barred by judicial immunity; and ordered the county to pay Roberts's attorney fees.
[295 Ga. 796] As explained below, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the mandamus
claim to Roberts instead of to Appellants, in dismissing Appellants' counterclaim for reimbursement, and in granting attorney fees to Roberts based on these erroneous rulings. However, the trial court properly dismissed Appellants' other counterclaims based on judicial immunity and correctly ruled that the county could be required to pay attorney fees to Roberts under OCGA § 9-15-14 based on the dismissed counterclaims. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's judgment in part and reverse it in part, and we remand the case for the entry of a more limited attorney fees award and to allow Appellants the opportunity to pursue their counterclaim for reimbursement.
1. In 2010, Judge C. Donald Peppers, Sr., of the State Court of Walker County was reelected to a four-year term of office that started on January 1, 2011. Effective June 30, 2011, Judge Peppers retired after 26 years in office; at the time he retired, he was allegedly making $172,102.80 per year, although a portion of his salary was reimbursed by Catoosa County for his service as a part-time judge in that neighboring county. On September 16, 2011, Governor Nathan Deal announced that he would appoint Bruce Roberts to fill the vacancy.
On September 30, 2011, Roberts met with Bebe Heiskell, Walker County's sole commissioner. Heiskell informed Roberts that the base salary for the state court judge position was $60,000 per year, see Ga. L. 1994, p. 3726, § 1, but she allegedly offered to pay him at the rate of $100,000 per year, slightly more than the $94,000 that he was making in his previous job. Roberts requested $110,000, but Heiskell declined, citing budget constraints. Roberts was sworn into office on October 3, 2011. He stood for election in the next nonpartisan general election in July 2012, but he lost, meaning that his term of office would end on the last day of 2012. During the period following his defeat, Roberts dismissed about 60 traffic cases. The county paid Roberts at an annualized rate of $100,000 for the 15-month period that he held office.
On October 25, 2012, Roberts filed a complaint for mandamus and other relief against Commissioner Heiskell (in her official capacity) and Walker County. Roberts sought to recover the difference between what he was being paid and what Judge Peppers would have been paid for the same period based on the provision of Article VI, Section VII, Paragraph V of the Georgia Constitution of 1983 that says: " An incumbent's salary, allowance, or supplement shall not be decreased during the incumbent's term of office." Roberts also asked for the county to provide him with legal representation, but the [295 Ga. 797] county did not do so. Appellants filed an answer and counterclaims for breach of contract, " intentional infliction of monetary damages," and intentional infliction of emotional distress, all based on Roberts's dismissal of the ...