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Tonight: Jefferson Set to Ask City Council For $17,828 in Legal Fees When He Ran For City Council 

City Councilman Eugene JeffersonLAKE CITY, FL – In August 2018, 20 year Council veteran, Eugene Jefferson, ran for City Council, won, and was sued to have him removed from office. Tonight he is scheduled to ask the City Council to have the taxpayers pay his legal fees.

Background

On August 8, 2018, Mr. Jefferson had won reelection to his City Council seat by 28 votes.

On September 7, 2018, Vanessa George, Glenel Bowden and a gaggle of other Georges and Bowdens filed a lawsuit against Eugene Jefferson in both his individual capacity and in his official capacity as a City Councilman. They wanted him to be removed from office claiming fraud and other things.

Also named in the suit were the Mayor and the rest of the City Council, the Columbia County Canvassing Board, Judge Tom Coleman, as a member of the Canvassing Board, Supervisor of Elections Liz Horne and Commissioner Tim Murphy, as members of the Canvassing Board.

On April 4, 2019, the first two counts, which involved everyone in their official capacity were thrown out by the court. Ms. George did not appeal. The City's outside counsel handle the litigation. The City's insurance paid the fee for the officials.

On April 30, 2019, Mr. Jefferson hired the Gainesville law firm of Avera & Smith to represent him in his individual capacity and to deal with what was left of the complaint, Count III.

After 4 months of litigation, Ms. George voluntarily dismissed Count III.

On August 29, 2019, the case was officially dismissed.

Mr. Jefferson's personal legal fees had run up to $17,082.07

Request for Legal Fees

On September 16, 2019, Avera & Smith sent City Attorney Fred Koberlein (it is not clear which one, Sr. or Jr.) a $17k request for Mr. Jefferson's legal fees. The law firm wanted the City Council (taxpayers) to pay up.

According to Mr. Jefferson, he did not receive a copy of the schedule of fees from the Koberlein law firm or his own.

Then on October 3, 2019, last Thursday, Mr. Koberlein, Sr., wrote a letter to Mayor Witt regarding the reimbursement of Mr. Jefferson's legal fees.

In his letter, Mr. Koberlein, Sr., wrote about his explanation, "I intend to avoid specificity."

According to Mr. Jefferson he received the letter on Friday, October 4.

Without specifics, it is not clear how the Council members are to make a decision.

The Law

Florida statue 111.07 allows reimbursement of public officials involved in law suits if, among other things, "the act occurred in the scope of his or her employment or function..."

Eugene Jefferson ran for City Council in his individual capacity, that is, as a private person, not a city councilman.

In Common Law, the courts have found that the City Council cannot deny Mr. Jefferson's legal fees if the "conduct complained of arises out of or in connection with the performance of his official duties [and that the] obligation arises independent of statute, ordinance, or charter. . . ." The court set forth the two pronged test which must be satisfied in order to compensate a public official for legal defense expenditures: "[T]he lawsuit [must] arise from (1) the performance of the officer's official duties and (2) while serving a public purpose."*

Mr. Jefferson has not filed any papers to recoup his legal fees from George et. al.

Tonight

Rod Smith of Avera & Smith is supposed to be coming before the City Council to make his case for his client. He is not on the agenda, although it was reported that he asked to be on the agenda last week.

Late today, the Observer has also been informed that City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr., has said the City's reimbursement of Mr. Jefferson's legal fees is justified.

The City Council meets at 6:00 pm.

It will have the last word.

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