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Taxpayers should not pay for costly lawsuit

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White has cost the county nearly $500,000 for a sexual harassment trial, a burden that should not be placed on taxpayers. White should pay these fees.

Former aide Alyssa Ogden sued White and the county, alleging that he fired her for rejecting his sexual advances, and a federal civil jury found White guilty in a decision last month, awarding Ogden $75,000 in damages.

The county commission must also find a way to pay Ogden’s lawyer fees ($211,000) and costs for their own outside lawyers ($180,000). White, a Democrat, told the St. Petersburg Times his lawyer fees are close to the county’s.

White’s misconduct led to this trial, and he should be held responsible for its cost. By no means should the commission use taxpayers’ money to pay the fees.

White has not yet committed to paying the costs. When asked at county commission meetings if he will contribute, he has declined to answer.

“I’m willing to participate in regard to this issue,” White said. “But I’m not willing to come out and say a number that in the end I may not be willing to pay.”

White has put his fellow commissioners in a tricky situation. They could appeal the original ruling, but even if they got out of paying the $75,000 in damages, they would accrue more lawyer fees in the process.

Suing White would also cost money, but it could force him to pay the fees. However, a motion by fellow Commissioner Rose Ferlita to do that failed to pass in a 3-3 vote last week.

The commission should not give up on this option, though. White is responsible for the lawsuit – not taxpayers, so Hillsborough residents should not foot the bill for his indiscretions. At least Ferlita is determined to get money out of White.

“My motion is that, now that the taxpayers have settled, I think we need to litigate to see if we can get any money back from him,” Ferlita said to the Times. “I don’t think we should leave any stone unturned.”

The commission should listen to Ferlita and do everything it can to hold White responsible for the cost of the lawsuit.