Hillsborough Commissioners vote to not sue Kevin White

10/07/09 Seán Kinane
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An attempt by Hillsborough County Commissioner Rose Ferlita to have the commission sue her colleague Kevin White failed today in an evenly-divided vote. The Commission voted 3-3 against Ferlita’s motion to bring a suit against White to compel him pay part of the fees owed because of a sexual harassment verdict.

Ferlita stated, "Between the county's attorney's fee ... the amount to be paid to the plaintiff, over 400k, that have been currently paid, we there still is 7k plus from the Appellate Council and 9k still not paid but invoiced (the lawyer), so we have spent an incredible amount of money to try and get this behind us to separate our concerns from those of Mr White."

Ferlita has repeatedly attempted to get Commissioner White to say how much he is going to pay, but has not gotten a response to her satisfaction.

Ferlita said," As we all know we have been dealing with this, White-Ogden-Hillsborough County issue for far too long I am hopeful that we can perhaps find some closure today. Mr. White to you first, in my recollection, I believe I have asked you this question three times during our deliberations and discussions. So, again as a courtesy today before I make my comments I would like to ask the same again. At this point can we, or more importantly, the citizens we represent look to some new expectation that you as a co-defendant in this case will act as a co-payer with regards to judgment turned settlement in the Ogden case."

Alyssa Ogden is the former aide to White who sued the Commissioner and the County for sexual harassment. She won the case and the judge ordered that both Hillsborough County and Commissioner White were liable for damages and fees. But White has declined several requests by the Commission to commit to how much he will pay.

White responded, "I believe my attorney has sent the county attorney a letter in response to that, there is still open and pending litigation in regards to an insurance policy who we were not made aware of that the county administrator nor the county attorney made my attorney aware of even though it was asked about in the mediation. So at this point in time nothing until that's resolved."

Commissioner Kevin Beckner proposed a substitute motion to give White more time to respond to the question of how much he will pay. "I believe we need to give him the opportunity to say no he is not going to participate or come back and say we are not going to make any type of contribution before we decide that we are going to spend additional taxpayer dollars to litigate this particular case. I think it is unfair to Commissioner White, I think it is unfair to taxpayers out there and I would make a substitute motion that we table this conversation until we have heard back from the insurance company about what they will pay or not pay and I want a definite answer from Commissioner White if he is going to participate or not before we decide we are going to litigate."

But that motion also failed, 3-3, meaning the Commission would be considering Ferlita’s original motion. County Attorney Renee Lee was asked how it would be determined how much White would pay versus how much the County had to pay.

Lee explained, "You may either do a mediation and make an agreement or you can sue him for half of it or 100% of it, we are both 100% liable for the obligation for the judgement. So, we can either try to recover 100% of that, 50% of that, it is negotiable. The courts leave it between the parties to decide that."

White said that one reason he hasn’t said how much he can pay is that he doesn’t know the legal limit of his financial exposure. He asked the County Attorney and County Administrator if the Commission had ever sued a Commissioner but they did not know of any examples.

White replied, "When the judge came up and said the joint and severable liability. Kevin White cannot be separated from the county. The reason he had said that and so many instances during the week trial because of this that i have in my hand. This is a draft policy that the county attorney just passed out on the sexual harassment policy which was not in place and that is why we cannot separate you from the county, because the county did not proper policies and procedures in place to protect you."

Beckner, Ken Hagan, and Mark Sharpe voted against Ferlita’s motion to sue White, who abstained. In their next meeting, the Commission will discuss the new policy for harassment policies and procedures between legislative aides and commissioners.

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