Amy Bell, the embattled Cass County circuit clerk, is leaving the courthouse with no apologies.
Bell was suspended from her circuit court duties last August by Cass County Judge William Collins, after he said she hired a close friend to oversee three special projects involving the transfer of paper records into an electronic format. The work was never completed.
The following month, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed a civil ouster petition and misdemeanor criminal charges against Bell, alleging she failed to perform duties required by law.
In a settlement of the cases last week, Bell resigned and withdrew as a Republican candidate in the August primary election. That virtually assures that the circuit clerk job will go to Kim York, a Republican from Raymore who will be running unopposed in August and November.
Koster agreed to drop both cases against Bell, who will be paid through the end of the year.
When contacted by a reporter last week, Bell issued a statement in which she denied any wrongdoing.
She said that in January 2013, two members of the judiciary began making it clear that they wanted her out of office. She said they tried to bully her into resigning and then threatened legal action — both criminal charges and a quo warranto petition seeking her ouster — unless she resigned.
When she refused to quit, Bell said, she was suspended and the two cases were filed.
“Immediately following this suspension, a judge in the 17th circuit made several misleading and inaccurate statements to the press, accusing me of numerous actions of malfeasance. It was ultimately determined that no evidence pertaining to these allegations existed and therefore, they were not included in the Quo Warranto petition.”
Koster became involved when Judge Collins appointed the attorney general’s office as a special prosecutor.
In court documents, Koster alleged 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 for an insurance claim regarding funds allegedly stolen by a deputy clerk.
That employee, Emily M. Rumbley, was charged with felony theft. According to online court records, she pleaded guilty in May 2013 and was ordered to pay $6,673.75 in restitution.
Koster also alleged that the unfinished work by Bell’s friend resulted in the loss of numerous court documents including original judgments, child support letters, exhibits, and in one case, an entire case file.
At the time, Bell responded that she believed employees in her office and the circuit court had conspired to oust her and make way for someone else preferred by the circuit court.
Court documents filed last week said Bell will technically remain a state employee with salary and benefits through the rest of her term, ending Dec. 31.
Collins directed all questions to Koster’s office, which declined comment.
In exchange for Bell’s agreement to have her name stricken from the ballot, the state agreed she would not be responsible for related costs. Bell claims Collins is financially responsible for reprinting the ballots and reimbursing her filing fee. Koster’s office said that was not the case but did not specify who will bear the costs.
Bell said she continues to “adamantly deny” all allegations.
“I believe I would have easily prevailed in these cases upon presentation of my defense to the courts. However, given the toxic environment created by two particular members of the judiciary, I am no longer willing to subject myself and my family to four more years of working in this unhealthy atmosphere.”
Bell said she was saddened that “the actions of individual members of our judiciary” will cause Cass County citizens to pay for both a circuit clerk and an acting clerk for more than 16 months.
“Nonetheless, I am proud of the service I gave to those who elected me to office,” she said. “The citizens of Cass County deserve justice with dignity and respect. It is my sincerest hope that the resolution of this matter will become a catalyst for restoring integrity to our local courts.”