Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

How do you trust your lawyer when she's lunching with the other side?

I am no lawyer. I don't even play one on TV.

But even without a law degree, I know this much: If you are a lawyer, going out to schmoozy lunches with the guy your clients are currently suing is not your best idea.

As if we haven't had enough shadowy stuff in Hillsborough County government lately, now comes Lunchgate. County Attorney Renee Lee, already under fire in give-yourself-a-raise and office- e-mail-snooping scandals that took down the last county administrator, is in another fine mess, this time involving a notorious former commissioner.

After Kevin White lost a sexual harassment case brought by an aide who said she was fired for refusing his advances, the county sued him for expenses. White, to absolutely no one's surprise, sued back.

Though she is the county attorney, Lee could not represent both the interests of commissioners and the interests of the then-commissioner they were suing. So a private lawyer stepped up to take it on for free, proving, given the latest news to rock this case, that no good deed goes unpunished.

Here's the Scandal Du Jour: Turns out Lee met with White for lunch, the county lawyer enjoying a nice chicken salad and a little office dish with the guy the county is suing.

Again, not a lawyer here, but I can look up Florida Bar rules on how they're supposed to act: RULE 4-4.2 In representing a client, a lawyer shall not communicate about the subject of the representation with a person the lawyer knows to be represented by another lawyer in the matter, unless the lawyer has the consent of the other lawyer.

Lee insists there was no problem because she didn't talk county business with White. He says she did. A text message shows her commiserating with him over his latest negative news story related to the suit.

Commiserating! With the guy on the other side! That sounds bad, even without legal interpretation.

Worse: White's claim that Lee told him she didn't understand why the county was going after him. If true, how's that for undermining your bosses?

Lee has called the lunch "a boneheaded thing to do." We are way beyond boneheaded.

So why? Why on earth would she do this?

A public official gets a free vacation house from a rich constituent and his motivation is not difficult to decipher. But this? Friendship? Misguided loyalty? A complex conspiracy to take Lee down? A desire to be unemployed?

And does it matter? The lawyer went to lunch with the guy her bosses are suing.

Now a scandal-weary commission gets to untangle messy questions like whether she called White to get their stories straight or if she deliberately misled two commissioners to think she and White just happened to run into each other. Some will defend her. Some will want her gone.

How do you trust your lawyer after this?

Lee's contract says she can be fired for really bad stuff like committing a crime, but also for "flagrant neglect of duty." My dictionary says "flagrant" is "glaring, notorious, scandalous." That sounds like meeting up for a nosh with a guy locked in litigation with your bosses and empathizing with his plight to me.

I'm no lawyer, but there must be some fancy Latin legal term, some actus reus or ipso facto, that says to the rest of us, "Enough already."

How do you trust your lawyer when she's lunching with the other side? 05/26/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 26, 2011 8:20pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Judge throws out $458,000 condo sale, says Clearwater attorney tricked bidders

    Real Estate

    CLEARWATER — Pinellas County Circuit Judge Jack St. Arnold on Monday threw out the $458,100 sale of a gulf-front condo because of what he called an "unscrupulous" and "conniving" scheme to trick bidders at a foreclosure auction.

    John Houde, left, whose Orlando copany was the high  bidder June 8 at the foreclosure auction of a Redington Beach condo, looks in the direction of Clearwater lawyer and real estate investor Roy C. Skelton, foreground,  during a hearing Monday before Pinellas County Circuit Judge Jack St. Arnold.  [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times ]
  2. Vision Zero plan to make Hillsborough roads safer to be unveiled

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Vision Zero, the coalition trying to make Hillsborough County safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, is set to unveil its action plan on Tuesday morning.

    Members of the Vision Zero workshop cross Hillsborough Avenue and Kelly Road during a on-street audit of Town 'N Country roads in January. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |   Times]
  3. Pasco EDC names business incubator head in Dade City, will open second site

    Business

    Pasco County economic development officials are busy reigniting their business start-up resources following the departure earlier this year of Krista Covey, who ran the Pasco Economic Development Council's SMARTStart business incubator in Dade City.

    Andrew Romaner was promoted this summer to serve as program director of the Dade City SMARTStart Entrepreneur Center, a start-up incubator service of the Pasco Economic Development Council. He succeeds Krista Covey, who relocated to Texas for another startup position. [Courtesy of Pasco EDC]
  4. What you need to know for Tuesday, Aug. 22

    News

    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    Clearwater lawyer and real estate investor Roy C. Skelton, center, attends a hearing on Monday Circuit Court Judge Jack St. Arnold at the Pinellas County Courthouse in Clearwater. The hearing was requested by attorneys representing John Houde, left, who filed a motion to invalidate the sale of a $458,000 Redington Beach condo, a deal orchestrated by Skelton, who stands accused of deliberately misleading bidders in a the June 8 foreclosure auction. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
  5. Sarasota GOP names Dick Cheney 'Statesman of the Year'

    Blogs

    Former Vice President Dick Cheney will be honored as "Statesman of Year" by the Sarasota GOP, a title that twice went to Donald Trump.

    Dick and Liz Cheney