Stone County

Case dismissed: Stone County clerk Jeffrey O’Neal promises judge he’ll follow the law

Stone County Circuit Clerk Jeffrey O’Neal will avoid a contempt charge in Circuit Court for failing to file his annual financial reports with the State Auditor’s Office.

Because the reports were woefully late, State Auditor Shad White filed court papers in November demanding that O’Neal produce reports for 2016 and 2017. Meanwhile, O’Neal also failed to file the 2018 report for his office, which was due in April.

Judge Christopher Schmidt dismissed the case Thursday morning, provided O’Neal files his 2018 report by July 8.

O’Neal filed his 2017 report Thursday, his attorney Steve Simpson told the judge. Simpson said O’Neal had filed his 2016 report, but the auditor’s office did not have its copy.

James Bobo of the state Attorney General’s Office represented the state auditor at Thursday’s hearing, saying White expects the 2018 report to be filed by the agreed deadline. Otherwise, O’Neal could wind up back in court.

“He is in fact pledging to do that,” Bobo told the judge, “and we’ll see whether he does it or not.”

The dismissal came after attorneys for both sides met in private.

Simpson said O’Neal will be filing future reports on time.

”He’s retained the services of a certified public accounting firm to compile the data over the course of a year and prepare these reports,” Simpson said.

Simpson would not comment further to explain why O’Neal had not previously sought professional assistance.

O’Neal recently told the Sun Herald that no money was missing from his office. Rather, he said, he was remiss in preparing the reports that show what fees his office took in and expenses paid out.

The reports help hold fee-paid officials accountable, the auditor’s office says.