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Should Taxpayers Shoulder Burden For Legal Fees of Officeholders?

Thursday, May. 31, 2012

The city of Plantation, Florida will reimburse the mayor more than $63,000 in legal fees she spent in defending ethics and criminal allegations filed by a political rival.

The Florida Commission on Ethics dismissed the charges brought forward by Warren Meddoff, who is now required to pay more than $52,000 for his part. Although Meddoff admitted he did no have any direct evidence of ethics violations by the mayor, he said city employees  told him that she was campaigning at city hall, and thus misusing her position. His complaint also accused her of violating the Sunshine Law, requiring elected officials to conduct public business in the open. The State Attorney’s Office dismissed that as well.

An administrative judge ruled that “Meddoff acted with a malicious intent” to injure the mayor’s reputation. “Cities have an obligation to pay costs of elected officials when allegations are made with reckless regard to the truth,” according to city attorney Donald Lunny.

The city’s insurance carrier has paid $25,000, and if the mayor collects any money from Meddoff she will reimburse the city.

Discussion questions:

• Should the city pay the legal fees?

• Would it make a difference if the charges against the mayor were not made by a political rival, but by a citizen with no political agenda?

• How might the council handle a similar situation in the future?

• Is it possible this action will discourage legitimate whistleblowers from coming forward with complaints about elected officials?

Post your comments here.

Tags: ethics violations

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