A popular thought I've heard throughout the community is Warren County government should take legal action to have the $59,000 it spent defending a federal lawsuit reimbursed.
The lawsuit was filed by one of its own officials, Commissioner Michael Shane Wilcher, after another official, Commissioner Ron Lee, threatened to beat him up if he sent any more mail to his house.
The lawsuit was finally tossed out of court Dec. 28, but not before the judge called it a "childish spat" and suggested Wilcher's feelings were entirely too delicate.
From what I've heard some folks say, making Wilcher pay the $59,000 would teach him a valuable lesson so to speak and could serve to prevent him from filing lawsuits in the future. When I asked Mr. Wilcher about this Wednesday night, he indicated that would not be the case.
"I hope the possibility of me having to pay the legal fees of the county and Ron Lee wouldn't discourage anyone, let alone me, from filing future lawsuits if misconduct, threats of bodily harm were to be perpetrated in the future, or civil rights were violated in the future," said Wilcher.
It does seem like cruel irony that someone elected to serve the taxpayers would end up costing the taxpayers $59,000, but County Executive Herschel Wells says it doesn't appear the county will be able to get back the majority of the $59,000.
"According to our attorneys, we can't recoup any of our expenses except for the money for taping and recording the depositions," said Wells.
The county has been billed for $4,930 for recording depositions, according to director of accounts Linda Hillis. Wells did say the county would pursue that money.
"Absolutely," said Wells when asked if the county would seek to recoup the deposition money. Wells added he's "tickled to death" the lawsuit is finally finished.
I share that relief, although the legal fees are bothersome. The county has enough financial obligations already -- and possibly more with a $7.5 million jail expansion under consideration. We don't need to spend $59,000 addressing a lawsuit that stemmed from a brief verbal exchange.
While Mr. Wilcher won't admit it, I certainly hope this episode serves as a deterrent for filing future lawsuits. As several people have called me to point out, anyone can file a lawsuit over anything. The lawsuit may eventually be tossed out of court as meritless, but the legal expenses remain.
I certainly appreciate Mr. Wilcher and his desire to fight for the little guy. It always helps to have a watchdog who is willing speak up.
But I feel his lawsuit was a misguided effort. More importantly, a federal judge feels that way too. It's a shame it cost us so much.
Standard editor James Clark can be reached at 473-2191.