TAMPA — Hillsborough Commissioner Kevin White made a few admissions Tuesday while testifying in his sexual discrimination trial.
Yes, White said, he tried to facilitate a romantic out-of-town getaway with his newly hired 22-year-old commission aide for a 77-year-old political benefactor.
Sure, he paid for the young woman's plane ticket using a family credit card on the promise he would be reimbursed.
And, no doubt, he left her alone with the man, assuming they would be sharing a hotel room while he was off in clubs.
So, obviously, he wouldn't have shown up at Alyssa Ogden's hotel room looking to share a bed with her, as she alleges. And no way did he make any of the other passes Ogden accuses him of in the months that followed, White said.
"I emphatically deny that," he said. "Never happened."
Ogden's lawsuit says White fired her for refusing his multiple sexual advances over the seven months she worked for him in 2007. She is seeking at least $145,000 in damages in a lawsuit accusing him of sexual discrimination.
Asked Tuesday by his own attorney whether he made any mistakes in his handling of Ogden, White said, "Absolutely."
"First of all, getting involved in a personal matter, and paying for it on a personal credit card," he said. "I just won't get involved in any personal matters with one of my employees again."
White's appearance was the highlight of Tuesday's testimony, though barely. He was called to the stand by Ogden's attorney, Ron Fraley. There, he spent much of his time answering questions about a trip to Atlanta that has been a central focus of the case.
It had been planned for weeks as sort of a "boy's weekend," White said.
He would fly to Atlanta and meet up with C. Blythe Andrews Jr., then 77, the owner of Tampa's Florida Sentinel Bulletin newspaper. He anticipated meeting up with an uncle, Andre Moses White.
Ogden says White invited her along just two days after she started working for him in April 2007, saying she would meet some influential people. She now says the night ended with White asking to share her hotel bed.
White, 44, a Democrat, testified Tuesday that it was actually Ogden who asked to join him and that Andrews offered to reimburse him if he paid for her plane ticket. He had introduced the two a little more than a week earlier and said he believed they had made their own, separate arrangement.
The eyebrows on some of the six women and two men in the jury could be seen furrowing as he recounted his defense.
White acknowledged that he and Ogden flew on separate planes.
"I didn't want it perceived that she was going with me," he said, though he acknowledged waiting for her with a rental car at the Atlanta airport and accompanying Ogden to lunch, dinner and shopping in between before leaving her with Andrews for the night.
Ogden has testified that White called her from a cell phone three times in the early morning hours from outside her hotel room asking to be let in. His cell phone records show three brief calls placed after 2 a.m.
Asked by Fraley why he would call at that hour, White said he had asked Ogden to check in with him. He said he checked his phone after visiting two bars in the trendy Buckhead area and didn't see a missed call.
"She was leaving to be with someone she barely knew," White said. "She was an employee of mine, and I wanted to make sure she was okay."
Neither Andrews nor White's uncle is scheduled to testify this week. An attorney for Andrews has said he is battling a long-term illness that has left him unable to appear.
But both he and the uncle sat for videotaped interviews that were played for jurors.
Andrews repeatedly denied White's account of the Atlanta trip, saying he is being thrown under the bus by someone he has treated like a grandson.
"Can you picture that? I'm asking. Can you picture that?" Andrews asks in response to a question from Fraley, who can be heard trying to redirect him. "I can't even you-know-what straight."
"Okay," says Fraley.
"I have a terminal illness," Andrews finishes.
Andre Moses White is heard recanting an earlier statement that his nephew spent the night in question at his house east of Atlanta. He now says it couldn't have happened because White would have gotten in too late and wouldn't have been able to bypass his home security system.
"Two things I don't do: Forget to … put my alarm on and sleep near my gun," Andre White said.
Ogden faced her own grilling early Tuesday. Lawyers for White and the county, which is also named in the lawsuit, repeatedly asked her questions forcing her to acknowledge she never reported any alleged harassment until after she was fired in November 2007.
She was forced to acknowledge repeatedly that she didn't tell the county human resource office, law enforcement or anyone else, other than her sister. She said she didn't know whom to tell.
"I had a public official who was supposed to be my boss sexually harass me," Ogden said. "I didn't know who I could trust."
Bill Varian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3387.