LOUISA, Ky. — After months of speculation concerning Lawrence Co. Master Commissioner Nelson Sparks and his capability to continue in his job due to health issues including a bad fall and heart procedures, he is back to work.
Sparks, 73, is a well known and well liked Louisa attorney. He has not posted sales in the past 8 months and Circuit Judge John Kevin Holbrook, who appoints the commissioner, said in a message that he “understands” that Sparks is back to work. (See message below).
“I put an order in the have Inez lawyer Brian Cumbo take it over but now I’ve heard Nelson is back to work,” the judge said.
Sparks responded after this story broke earlier today and here it is exclusively for The Lazer.
“…In Kentucky, a Master Commissioner does not receive any regular compensation; he is only paid out of the proceeds from the sale of property under an order from the Circuit Court. If no property is sold, the commissioner is not paid. Because Lawrence County is one of the smallest counties, my earnings as commissioner are among the smallest in the state. The $200 fee you mentioned is paid to the Administrative Office of Courts in Frankfort; I do not receive a penny of it.
Several months ago, I suffered a tendon tear in my leg. Because I have a weak heart, my doctors say it is not safe to do the surgery necessary to repair my leg and it appears that I will be in a wheelchair for life. There is a long flight of stairs to my office and I have had to do my work at home; my office phone is still connected but usually there is no one there to answer it. I can be reached at my home at 638-4997.
Because I spent most of the past summer in the hospital and a rehabilitation center, a backlog of sales accumulated; we are now setting sales again and we expect to be caught up soon.
Sparks has also acted as the county’s Trial Commissioner before Josh Puckett, now county Treasurer. Judge John Chaffin has the authority to appoint the Trial Commissioner, who also has the job of issuing warrants and other duties.
It is unclear how much total salary and fees the commissioner gets for the work but there is a mandatory fee of $200 to $400 for each document, plus expenses.. Here’s the law pertaining to the duties:
Section 1 – Authority, Application, and Scope, Ky. Admin. P. Ct. Justice. 1 (“These rules shall apply to all cases and proceedings referred to the master commissioner of the circuit court, including but not limited to judicial sales, settlement of estates, receiverships, and special proceedings.”)
Here is the conversation Lazer Editor Mark Grayson had with Judge Holbrook:
It has been a struggle to get information on who you have appointed as Master Commissioner and Trial Commissioner in Lawrence County, Ky. Nelson Sparks is apparently too ill to do the job. Has he been replaced by Brian Cumbo from Inez? When did that happen and has he got any info to post? I request a copy of everything he/she publishes.
I had put an order in place for Brian to serve as Special Master Commissioner during Nelson’s illness but it’s my understanding that Nelson is back doing the duties of Master Commissioner. I believe he’s noticed sales recently but will check to see if that’s not the case. The Trial Commissioner is appointed by District Court so I’m not certain who’s filling that role at the moment.
Thank you, Kevin Holbrook
I wonder how a person can contact him? He doesn’t return phone calls. Be nice to have a number he answers or an email address or something. He has even been my attorney on a couple cases and I know him well. I believe if he was able or getting my calls he would answer me.
Thanks again for the info.
Here’s the law on compensation and functions.of commissioners:
“… The master commissioner shall be compensated by fees as provided in Sections 8 and 9 herein. The circuit court may allow the master commissioner a reasonable fee for acting as receiver of the court, for executing documents pursuant to court order, for performing such other functions as ordered by the court, and for performing judicial type functions in actions where the master commissioner does not execute a judicial sale.(4) The master commissioner shall maintain his or her office at such locations and during such hours as the chief circuit judge shall direct.(5) The master commissioner shall perform such functions, including those of a receiver, as may be directed by an appropriate order of the court.(6) Upon the express written authority of the Administrative Office of the Courts on behalf of the Chief Justice, the master commissioner may have such deputies and clerical staff as are necessary to perform the functions of his or her office.(7) A master commissioner or deputy master commissioner shall hold no other public office of the Court of Justice except that of trial commissioner for the district court pursuant to SCR 5.010, or domestic relations commissioner as approved by the Chief Justice.(8) Master commissioners and deputy master commissioners shall be qualified as licensed attorneys in good standing with the Kentucky Bar Association.(9) The Administrative Office of the Courts, Department of Financial Services shall have the authority to establish accounting standards, prescribe bookkeeping and accounting practices and procedures, and oversee the financial accounts of master commissioners.(10) The Administrative Office of the Courts, Office of Audits shall have the authority to establish audit standards, and to otherwise perform audits of master commissioners. A copy of any audit report shall be submitted by the Administrative Office of the Courts, Office of Audits to the chief circuit judge.
(a) In the event that the audit reveals a serious or recurring bookkeeping, accounting, procedural or other irregularity, a copy shall also be submitted to the Chief Justice and the Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts.(b) After reviewing the audit report, the Chief Justice may refer the master commissioner to the judge(s) of the circuit court for removal.(11) A non-refundable judicial sale administrative fee of $200 shall be added to all cases referred to the master commissioner for judicial sale. The circuit court clerk shall collect the administrative fee at the time the referral is made, prior to processing the motion for judgment and distributing the order of sale. The fee shall be collected prior to the master commissioner undertaking the order of sale. The circuit court clerk shall promptly remit all fee monies collected to the Administrative Office of the Courts. Judicial sale administrative fee money is to be placed in a special account designated to cover the administrative costs of the master commissioner program. These costs include, but are not limited to, all necessary bonding of master commissioners and the employment of sufficient staff to conduct audits of master commissioner offices statewide. To whatever extent total judicial sale administrative fees collected do not fully cover these expenses, funds may be deducted from the excess fees master commissioners submit to the Administrative Office of the Courts with their mandatory annual accounting report.
Here’s more on the money trail…
As amended through May 19, 2023
Section 8 – Compensation of Master Commissioners, Deputies, and Clerical Staff(1) Master commissioners shall be compensated by fee charged upon the parties or paid out of any fund of an action in the circuit court. Deputies, clerical staff and office expenses, as authorized in AP Part IV, Section 10, shall be paid from the excess fees of the office. Salaries of clerical staff shall be set in accordance with the pay schedule established by the judicial personnel system.(2) The fee for each judicial sale shall be calculated as follows:
(a) 3% of the final bid. The fee shall be no less than $400 and shall not exceed $5,000.(b) If the sale involves more than one property, parcel, or judgment, a fee of $650 per additional property, parcel, or judgment (e.g., the second, third, and subsequent) shall be assessed in addition to the fee calculated under subsection (2)(a) of this section.(c) If the sale is withdrawn, a fee of not more than 50% of what the sale fee would have been as calculated under subsections (2)(a) and (b) of this section based upon the appraisal value of the property, or $400, whichever is greater, shall be assessed.(d) If the sale is not confirmed through no fault of the master commissioner, a fee of no more than the sale fee as calculated under subsections (2)(a) and (b) of this section shall be assessed.(3) In addition to the fee authorized in subsection (2), above, the master commissioner may also recover necessary direct expenses attributable to the case referred for judicial sale including the cost of postage, copies, faxes, long distance telephone, advertising, appraisers, licensed auctioneer pursuant to KRS 426.522, and the cost of the care of the property in his or her possession, and shall recover the administrative fee prescribed in Section 2(11). The circuit court may require a deposit sufficient in amount to pay the direct costs of sale.(4) A fee of $50 shall be charged for each report and recommendation(s) prepared on tendered foreclosure judgments in uncontested cases for enforcement of a mortgage or other lien. Additionally, a fee of $50 shall be charged for drafting any necessary deed or title and executing same.(5) For receiving and paying out money under court order, except as otherwise provided in subsection (2), and for settling the accounts of estates the fee shall be 3% of the first $2,000; 2½% for the next $3,000; and, 1½% for the excess over $5,000. For settlement of accounts of insolvent estates this computation shall exclude any amounts exempt from creditors. In no case shall the fee exceed $5,000.
Ky. Admin. P. Ct. Justice. 8
Amended by order 2017-08, eff. 7/6/2017; Part IV last amended by Order 2015-25, eff. 1/1/2016; amended by Order 2018-22, eff. 1/1/2019; amended by order 2021-33, eff. 9/20/2021.