Hillsborough Commissioners discuss legal strategy in sexual harassment case

09/02/09 Mitch E. Perry
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Hillsborough County Commissioners decided today to authorize their outside Counsel to file post-trial briefs in the Kevin White sexual harassment suit, as well as enter into good faith negotiations on trying to reduce their legal fees from the case, now estimated at $170,000.

However, the board said they needed more information on whether or not they wanted to engage in a full-fledged appeal, which an attorney said today would cost them an additional $50,000 and could take a year to complete.

As County Commissioners debated their options in open session this morning, Commissioner Rose Ferlita questioned White, who was at the meeting but could not vote due to an obvious conflict of interest – on how much of the fees he could afford to pay.

The federal judge who presided over White’s trial last month ruled that he and the county are jointly liable for legal fees, in what is known legally as joint and several liability in the case in which White was sued by his former aide, then 22 year old Alyssa Ogden.

County Commissioners had to decide on three critical issues in going forward. The first was to decide on whether to pay one of their outside attorneys, Claire Saady, to file post-trial motions to appeal the judge’s ruling that the county and White were joined at the hip.

Commissioners voted 5-1 to authorize Saady to do so, with Ferlita voting no. Saady must file such motions by Friday, at a cost that will probably be between $5,000 and $6,000.

Next, the Board then voted unanimously to enter into court-ordered negotiations with Alyssa Ogden’s attorney, Robert Fraley, on negotiating a reduction of his legal fees in the case.

Claire Saady, said that there is a good chance that a judge would reduce Fraley’s hourly fees.

But the County Commission opted not to support going ahead with a full-fledged appeal by outside attorney Steven Brannock – not until they see a financial breakdown of the pros and cons of going forward. Brannock said it would cost approximately $50,000 in legal fees to do a full appeal.

With the eyes of the public and media upon them in the open session, most commissioners kept to the dry numbers in the case, with the exception of Commissioner Ferlita. She said that the fact that the County had no clue as to how much Commissioner White could contribute to the legal fees made it easy for her to declare that she would not support an appeal.

The board ultimately decided to have county Attorney Renee Lee and her staff crunch some numbers and will present that back before the Board on whether or not it would make financial sense to appeal by next Tuesday.

Before the Board’s discussions, some members of the public gave their opinion on the situation regarding Kevin White and his legal fees.

Joanne O’Brian supported White, and said if he was her son, she’d tell him to appeal.

Gerald White said the issue in the sexual harassment case was ultimately about respecting women.

Community activist Michelle Williams paused for several seconds after she began speaking from the podium. She said ‘god would not allow her to say what she wanted to say.’

But another community activist, Connie Burton, said the White’s guilty verdict at the hands of a jury that was all white with one Latino, was just another example of an injustice to a black man roll.

Another activist, Jarvis El-Amin, trashed the plaintiff, Alyssa Ogden.

Again, the Hillsborough County Commission will decide on whether to pursue a full-fledged appeal of the Federal Court’s ruling on the issue next Tuesday.

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