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School Board won't pay Espey legal fees

School Board member John Espey will have to pay the majority of the legal expenses he incurred while trying to defend his right to hold office. Espey, who is out $13,115 for attorney's fees and court costs, said he may appeal the board's decision to the Circuit Court.

"I will be looking at my options," Espey said.

Board members voted 4-2 Wednesday not to pay for Espey's legal battles, which began when Espey was sued by the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association shortly after being elected to office in 1986 as the representative from District 2.

The suit claimed that Espey did not live in District 2 when he was elected.

Almost four years later, the circuit and district courts ruled that there was no basis for the lawsuit.

School Board member Lonna Field said the board should not have to pay since "it seems clear to me the action occurred before Mr. Espey was on the board."

But member Lucile Casey said if the board did not pay for Espey, other School Board members might find themselves facing similar suits in the future.

Kay Aude and Sandy Webb, parents of children at Clearwater High School, asked the board not to reimburse Espey since schools are forced to do without needed supplies this year because of budget cuts.

"We have just been told by Clearwater High teachers there is no money for Xerox paper or lab equipment," Mrs. Aude said.

In the end, Casey and Robert Moore voted to reimburse Espey. Chairwoman Barbara Crockett, Field, Ron Walker and Corinne Freeman voted against. Espey abstained.

Espey may be able to recover about $3,000 of his legal expenses from the teachers group and a personal insurance policy, said Martin Rice, Espey's attorney.

In an interview following the board's decision, Espey accused board members of violating the state's Sunshine Law by discussing his request for reimbursement among themselves before and during the board meeting.

Espey specifically condemned Walker for contributing to his defeat in his bid for re-election last month.

Challenger Bruce McDowell defeated Espey in last month's Republican primary. McDowell faces Democrat Linda Lerner in the November general election.

Walker, who is chairman of the local Republican Party, "did everything in his power to defeat me," Espey said. "He was supposed to stay out of party business."

Walker denied any involvement in Espey's re-election bid.

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