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Ex-Hillsborough Commissioner Kevin White off the hook for legal bill from harassment case

TAMPA — A federal civil jury decided that former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White sexually harassed his one-time aide.

But a judge ruled Friday that he is not obligated to pay any of the $425,000 in expenses stemming from the 2009 trial.

U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore said that the county has no right to seek partial payment of the costs from White since it, too, was somewhat liable in the case.

"So the county is not going to recover any money from Kevin White for anything related to the case," said Michael Laurato, an attorney for White. "We couldn't have asked for anything more."

Nevertheless, White does plan to ask for more. Laurato said Friday he intends to sue the county's insurers for denying his initial requests that they pay White's own legal bills from the harassment case.

Whittemore has previously ruled that White should have been covered under the insurance policy for the $157,730 in legal bills he amassed.

Laurato says the insurers acted in bad faith in denying his claim for reimbursement and said he will seek damages in excess of $75,000. If he prevails, that means White could ultimately make money from the case.

White, 46, a Democrat, will be sentenced Feb. 27 after being convicted this month of seven federal criminal counts, including bribery and wire fraud. He left office last November after a resounding primary defeat in his re-election campaign, which was clouded by the harassment case.

In that case, a jury found White discriminated against former aide Alyssa Ogden, who worked for him for seven months in 2007. Ogden claimed she was fired for refusing White's repeated sexual advances, which she said began shortly after he took office and hired her.

Jurors found the county jointly liable because it failed to provide Ogden adequate means to file a grievance about the treatment. They awarded Ogden $75,000 in damages and her attorney sought that payment and more than $200,000 in legal expenses from the county, which it paid.

The county racked up another $200,000-plus in legal fees after hiring its own outside counsel in the case.

A policy held by the county from State National and Star insurance companies covered a small portion of the costs but carried a $350,000 deductible. The insurers also claimed the damage award to Ogden wasn't covered and refused to pay White's bills.

White claimed he was too broke to help pay any of the $425,000 the county spent on the case.

Commissioners decided to sue White in an effort to make him pay at least some of the costs. Tampa lawyer Richard Harrison, with the Allen Dell firm, volunteered his services for free.

"As a resident of Hillsborough County, and a taxpayer, I'm as unhappy as any other resident and taxpayer," Harrison said Friday. "It does not seem right that the county should have to bear all the expenses for Kevin White's conduct."

Harrison said federal rules pertaining to the type of discrimination Ogden claimed place a priority on ensuring the victim gets compensated. That's why her attorneys sought money from the county.

The attorney argued that, since Ogden has already been paid, the county should be entitled to get some reimbursement from White.

But Whittemore said a majority of courts have ruled in such cases that the county cannot compel White to contribute since it was found at least partially liable in the case as well.

Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.

Ex-Hillsborough Commissioner Kevin White off the hook for legal bill from harassment case 11/18/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 18, 2011 10:54pm]
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