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COUNTY OFFERS $100K TO SETTLE

The lawyer is seeking more than twice that for work on the case against Kevin White.

Hillsborough County commissioners offered to settle the sexual discrimination suit against colleague Kevin White Tuesday - for $100,000.

That's less than half of what the attorney for former aide Alyssa Ogden, who sued White and the county, says he is owed.

The county intends its offer to be payment for that legal bill along with the $75,000 a jury awarded Ogden in damages.

Commissioner Jim Norman reasoned that Ogden's attorney, Ron Fraley, might see it as beneficial to accept a bird in hand, rather than wait 18 months for an appeal to run its course.

His motion, which passed 5-1, also authorized the county to appeal a judge's ruling that the county is jointly liable with White in the case.

That does not necessarily mean the county will appeal. But the threat could serve as leverage in negotiating a settlement.

"This is hard money we're trying to save," Norman said.

Commissioner Rose Ferlita voted against the settlement offer, instead proposing the county pay what Fraley is owed and be done with it. White abstained.

Fraley could not be reached late Tuesday. He sent an e-mail to outside lawyer hired by the county offering to reduce his fees in the case by $5,000.

Fraley is seeking $216,000 in fees and costs for his work on Ogden's behalf. If the two sides cannot reach an agreement on what he will be reimbursed, the trial judge will take up the issue.

Claire Saady, an outside lawyer hired by the county to defend it in the case, has told commissioners she thinks reasonable fees for Fraley should run between $75,000 and $100,000.

Ogden claimed in federal court that White fired her after seven months on the job in 2007 for refusing his repeated sexual advances. A civil jury agreed last month, awarding her $75,000 in damages.

Commissioners received options on how to proceed Tuesday, along with estimated cost to taxpayers for each choice. That cost could climb to close to $585,000 if the county appeals and loses.

Ferlita argued that such an expense is particularly harmful now, with commissioners trying to trim millions out of their budget for next year.

She suggested settling the case without an appeal and suing White to try to recoup some of what is owed to Ogden and her attorney.

As she did last week, she asked White if he would agree to pay some portion and he declined to answer.

"The timing is horrible for this mess and for our co-defendant, Commissioner White," Ferlita said. "My suggestion is, let's cut our losses."

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