In a rare and perhaps illegal move for Missouri courts, the presiding circuit court judge in Lincoln County has removed the elected circuit clerk from office — and appointed her replacement — amid a monthslong dispute.
Presiding Judge Patrick Flynn entered the office of Circuit Clerk Karla Allsberry at 4:13 p.m. Tuesday, accompanied by at least two armed, uniformed deputies, according to a statement from Allsberry emailed Wednesday to the Post-Dispatch. She has also been barred from returning to the building, the statement said.
Flynn and Allsberry have been feuding since January over Allsberry’s authority to hire and fire staff and submit a budget. And while feuds between circuit clerks and judges aren’t rare, a judge’s removal of an elected circuit clerk is nearly unheard of. Critics on Wednesday questioned the legality and propriety of Flynn’s decision.
“It just amazes me that this happened,” said Sue Brown, Allsberry’s mentor and the circuit clerk in Phelps County. “As an elected official I cannot believe that the presiding judge can go in and take the circuit clerk out of office.”
Melissa Holcomb, president of the Missouri Circuit Clerks Association, said there was “great concern” within the association about Allsberry’s removal. “It negates a vote by the people,” she said.
Flynn declined to comment when asked in a text message whether there was a court order or other paperwork marking the transfer of power.
In a letter to Allsberry, Flynn cited a state statute about the selection and powers of presiding judges, which says the “presiding judge of the circuit shall have general administrative authority over all judicial personnel and court officials in the circuit.”
But Brendan Roediger, director of the St. Louis University School of Law litigation clinic, said Flynn’s authority under that statute does not extend to removing a circuit clerk. “There’s actually a separate statutory provision that makes it a misdemeanor for a clerk to not do their job and in order for a judge to fire a clerk, they have to bring that charge,” Roediger said.
There is no criminal charge against Allsberry listed in online court records.
Roediger said a judge removing an elected clerk was very unusual. He did find one example. In 1905, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that a clerk could not be removed from office after being accused of a double murder because those murders were not connected to his office.
Flynn and two other judges voted in January, shortly after Allsberry took office, to transfer from Allsberry to Flynn the authority to hire and fire clerk’s office staff and submit a budget. Flynn reportedly said he was concerned about the resignation of some deputy clerks in the first days of Allsberry’s tenure.
Allsberry sued Flynn and other judges earlier this month, claiming the move was improper. She also lost an appeal to a state court committee.
She has claimed in correspondence to the committee that Flynn was trying to “nullify the election,” “actively campaigned” against her and was motivated by “petty, personal and political reasons.” Her husband, Associate Circuit Judge Gregory Allsberry, defeated Flynn in the 2014 general election.
Allsberry questioned Flynn’s authority to remove her from office and said she was “reviewing her legal options.”
Flynn, in his own statement, said that he appointed longtime deputy court clerk Dianne Doll as the temporary circuit clerk “due to the indefinite unavailability of Karla Kerpash Allsberry.”
A spokeswoman for the Missouri Supreme Court did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Wednesday.
A sheriff’s official, in an email, said Flynn asked for a deputy to stand by as he removed Allsberry from office, and several were there “to keep the peace.”