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Insurer ordered to pay ex-Hillsborough Commissioner Kevin White's $167,000 legal tab

TAMPA — Attorneys for ex-Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White will be paid by county insurers for what it cost to unsuccessfully defend him against a 2009 sexual harassment complaint, a federal judge ruled Wednesday. His defense team says that comes to $167,000.

One of White's attorneys called the ruling a victory for taxpayers, but a lawyer for Hills­borough County said it was a victory only for White's attorneys.

The county is still seeking $425,000 from White — the amount it spent in the case. Wednesday's ruling didn't apply to that amount.

A federal jury found in 2009 that White fired former aide Alyssa Ogden for refusing his repeated sexual advances.

Ogden was awarded $75,000 and her attorneys recouped slightly more than $200,000 in legal fees. Additionally, the county amassed more than $200,000 in bills from its own outside lawyers.

Taxpayers had to cover a $350,000 deductible before the county's insurance policy kicked in.

White has claimed that the policy should have covered his own legal expenses, or about $167,000.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Court James D. Whittemore agreed.

"The undisputed facts demonstrated that … one or both of the insurers had a duty to reimburse White for the reasonable expenses he incurred in his defense," the judge wrote.

State National Insurance Co. and Star Insurance Co. had sued White in an effort to get the courts to clarify whether he qualified for reimbursement.

In the complicated legal action, White countersued to say he should get his costs paid.

White's civil attorney, Michael Laurato, said the ruling means that when county employees are accused of wrongdoing, there will be no question that insurance companies, rather than taxpayers, will have to pay their legal expenses.

But Richard Harrison, an attorney who represented the county, said Hillsborough never had any intention of paying for White's legal defense.

"It's not a victory for taxpayers, not at all," Harrison said. "The order doesn't affect Hillsborough County. It addresses the insurance company. Any issues between the county and Mr. White will be addressed in a separate order."

White is scheduled to go to trial Oct. 31 on federal charges that include bribery, conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud and lying to an FBI agent.

Prosecutors say White and his late father schemed to collect $8,000 in bribes and a 2003 Lincoln Navigator while White served on the county's Public Transportation Commission before losing re-election in November.

The case against another defendant, towing company operator George Hondrellis, has been delayed because he is in federal custody awaiting the outcome of a 30-day mental health evaluation.

His attorneys told a judge in September that Hondrellis is delusional and mentally incompetent.

Insurer ordered to pay ex-Hillsborough Commissioner Kevin White's $167,000 legal tab 10/19/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 20, 2011 1:11am]
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