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Hillsborough County wins latest round in fight over ex-commissioner's legal bills

TAMPA — Hillsborough County is still trying get money out of former Commissioner Kevin White to cover costs from the 2009 sexual harassment lawsuit by his former aide.

U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore ruled Friday that the county can pursue two of the three legal arguments it has advanced in an attempt to recoup part of the costs from the case. The ruling was given in response to arguments from White that all three claims should be dismissed.

"The short and simple version is that we asserted three different legal theories in which the county could recover money from Kevin White," said Richard Harrison, an attorney with the Allen Dell law firm who agreed to take on the recovery effort by the county for free. "The judge has allowed two to move forward. Two out of three ain't bad, as Meatloaf once said."

White did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. His attorney, Michael Laurato, said, "One down, two to go," explaining that he expects to knock down all of the county's arguments before the case concludes.

A federal jury found in 2009 that White fired aide Alyssa Ogden for refusing his repeated sexual advances. Ogden was awarded $75,000 in damages, and her lawyers recouped slightly more than $200,000 in legal fees from the county.

The county also amassed more than $200,000 in bills from its own outside lawyers.

The jury found both White and the county responsible for effectively discriminating against Ogden.

A county insurance policy covered part of those costs but carried a $350,000 deductible. White has claimed that the policy should have covered his own, separate legal expenses, or about $157,000. The insurer said he wasn't eligible because of the nature of the offense.

The county is trying to recoup part of the deductible, which White has declined to pay, saying he doesn't have the money.

State National Insurance Company and Star Insurance Company sued White in an effort to get the court to clarify whether he qualifies for reimbursement. White countersued, maintaining that his costs from the case should be covered.

The county joined the lawsuit to argue that White should repay part of the costs it fronted to pay Ogden's damages and legal fees. White's original trial lawyers, meanwhile, also have joined the suit to say that if the insurance policy does cover his legal bills, the money should go straight to them.

White was trounced in November by former state Sen. Les Miller in his re-election bid, with many voters citing the case as the reason they voted against him.

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

Hillsborough County wins latest round in fight over ex-commissioner's legal bills 03/25/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 25, 2011 10:48pm]
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