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Hillsborough commissioner on the hook for his legal fees

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White will have to pay his own legal bills stemming from last year's sexual discrimination verdict against him.

An insurance company has denied White's claim for reimbursement, saying a policy held by the county does not cover intentional acts of wrongdoing. Barring further information from White's attorney, the commissioner is on the hook for his own expenses.

Now, his fellow commissioners will seek to press White on his willingness to pay some portion of the county's costs stemming from its role in the August trial. Commissioner Rose Ferlita said Wednesday she will seek a resolution when the board meets in two weeks.

"I feel we need to settle this," Ferlita said. "Let's get this done."

White did not speak during the discussion. But he said afterward that he is still trying to get a fix on the finality of the insurance company's ruling.

He said he's not prepared to say how much, if any, of the county's tab he would be willing or able to pay until he is certain of his own expenses.

"Once we have all of the details, I look forward to moving forward and getting this behind me as well," White said. "The county has more pressing issues to deal with. This has been lingering long enough."

A federal civil jury in April found that White sexually discriminated against former aide Alyssa Ogden by firing her for refusing his repeated sexual advances.

The judge and jury in the case found the county jointly liable, saying it lacked adequate workplace harassment protection for commissioners' employees.

The trial and preparation for it cost the county about $490,000. That included a $75,000 damage award for Ogden, a little more than $200,000 in reimbursement for her lawyer, and almost $200,000 in legal expenses.

The county has an insurance policy to cover such expenses. But it has a $350,000 deductible and doesn't cover Ogden's $75,000 damage award. Representatives of the insurer have confirmed the policy will pay the balance, which is about $66,000.

But some county officials had feared that, with the deductible met, White would be able to submit a claim for his privately hired lawyers and have it fully paid. He has declined to disclose his outside legal expenses, other than to say they are close to what the county spent, or almost $200,000.

A letter from Meadowbrook Insurance Group received by the county this week appears to deny that possibility. It does give White's lawyer an opportunity to submit an appeal.

"At this point in time, they've made their decision that it's not payable," said Christina Swanson, the county's director of employee benefits and risk management. "We consider the case closed as far as we're concerned."

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

Hillsborough commissioner on the hook for his legal fees 01/06/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 7, 2010 12:20am]
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