White says county attorney has contacted him repeatedly

TAMPA — To hear former County Commissioner Kevin White tell it, he didn't have much of a relationship with Hillsborough County Attorney Renee Lee while he was in office, and has less of one now.

In fact, according to a deposition released Tuesday, White said, he has had no meaningful contact with anyone else at County Center since leaving office in November.

Yet, according to White, one person has reached out to him repeatedly — the person one might least expect to be initiating contact with someone with whom the county is locked in a bitter lawsuit.

Lee, the county's top lawyer.

White says the two have talked repeatedly over the phone, orally and through text messages starting around February. At one point, he said he told her to stop texting him and to call instead.

The repeated contacts, initially described by White's attorney last week, are the subject of consternation from county commissioners. They have scheduled a discussion on the topic for their meeting Thursday.

White says in the deposition that Lee, with whom he had gotten lunch with two, maybe three times during his four years as a commissioner, has twice invited him to lunch since November.

The first time, in either late February or early March at the upscale Ocean Prime restaurant near International Plaza, Lee picked up the tab, he said.

The second time he says he left $25 on the table to cover his share of a lunch at Roy's, saying he felt it wasn't appropriate to let her pay his share. Janee Murphy, a political activist and friend to both, was also at the lunch, though she arrived late.

During or in the runup to both meetings, White said Lee expressed disbelief that the county was still pressing a lawsuit against him to recoup legal expenses from his 2009 sexual discrimination trial.

He claims she acknowledges that the county is unlikely to recoup any money, since he is broke.

"I … don't know why we're going through this futile effort wasting time, money, energy and effort," White paraphrased Lee, "to end up with a judgment we'd never be able to collect."

And he said she offered to help him in any way she could. But when he asked if the new makeup of the commission since he left made it more amenable to settling the case, she said, "No, there are still individuals who are gung-ho and still pushing this along," according to White.

A federal jury found White discriminated against a former aide by firing her for refusing his sexual advances. Commissioners sued him to recoup some portion of more than $425,000 in legal expenses from the case.

White, who was voted out of office in last year's Democratic primary, is suing the county and its insurer, saying they should have covered his separate $155,000 legal tab.

White's attorney, Michael Laurato, has questioned the legal ethics of the county attorney scheduling meetings with his client without his knowledge. Commissioners question Lee's judgment.

She did not return a phone call for this story, but has said previously that she was simply reaching out to a former colleague who continues to attract critical media coverage.

In between the two lunches, White testified that Lee called him on his personal cell phone during the dinner hour to talk to him about a house in Riverview he recently purchased.

In other tidbits from the deposition:

White says the attorney for his former aide initially offered to settle her lawsuit for somewhere between $100,000 to $150,000, anywhere from a quarter to a third of what the case cost taxpayers. The county offered no more than $50,000.

He also claims to have no documentation of what he owes his attorneys or the terms for which they were hired, at one point saying some of the records may have been lost when he moved to his new house.

See the deposition

To read the sworn statements of former County Commissioner Kevin White, go to links.tampabay.com.

White says county attorney has contacted him repeatedly 05/31/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 11:29pm]

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