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White sues to get payment for his legal fees

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White is going on the offensive, claiming in a lawsuit that he's the one who should be getting paid back for expenses from his sexual discrimination trial last year.

White says in the first claim filed in U.S. District Court on Friday that an insurance company that covered some of the county's costs from the August trial should pick up his legal bill, too.

And he claims the county violated that insurance policy by failing to defend him in the case, or to accept a settlement from the former aide who had sued him.

White's attorney, Michael V. Laurato, says the county's insurance policy from State National Insurance Co. is meant to cover liability from just such episodes. The county pays about $500,000 annually for the policy.

Laurato says commissioners seem more intent on making political statements about White than in making sure taxpayer money is well spent. By failing to follow the policy, he said, the county may be opening itself to getting turned down for future insurance coverage if it should get hit with a more costly suit.

"The question is, why have they decided to discriminate on insurance benefits for Commissioner White?" Laurato asked. "A responsible public entity would say, 'We spent $500,000 for this policy. It applies all of the time, not some of the time.' "

A former aide to White, Alyssa Ogden, successfully sued both him and the county, saying that White fired her for refusing his repeated sexual advances and that the county offered inadequate redress. A jury awarded her $75,000 in damages, and legal expenses reached more than $400,000.

Commissioners have asked White to chip in on some of the costs, and this year voted to sue him after he declined. Tampa lawyer Richard Harrison has offered to represent the county for free, and commissioners will consider his offer Thursday.

White says he doesn't have the money and owes his own attorneys in the case.

County risk managers filed a claim with their liability insurer after the trial. Despite the premium, the policy has a $350,000 deductible for each claim, and it didn't cover the damages award. The county got just $66,000.

White filed his own claim with the company, but was turned down, with the firm saying he was ineligible because the allegations against him were willful violations. He was also told he had to meet the deductible.

Attempts to reach representatives of the insurer and the acting county attorney were unsuccessful Tuesday night.

Laurato argues the insurer can't reach two different rulings for claims stemming from the same suit in which the county and White were held liable.

"Really what we're looking for in this case is we're looking for the insurance company to pay for his expenses," Laurato said.

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

White sues to get payment for his legal fees 06/01/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 2, 2010 12:37am]

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