Public Money for Legal Fees Clay Official Defends Using County Funds

Article excerpt

GREEN COVE SPRINGS -- Clay County Clerk of Court John Keene

yesterday defended his use of more than $60,000 in public funds

to pay legal fees connected to a 1994 ethics complaint and said

that county taxpayers would also foot the bill for a related

federal complaint filed against him this year.

In a prepared statement read to the Clay County Commission,

Keene said the legal expenses he incurred defending ethics

complaints against him and his finance director, as well as

attempting to force his accuser to pay the initial bill, were

not his personal responsibility.

"I believe that not only was the expenditure of attorneys fees

justified, it was and continues to be the legal obligation of

Clay County to pay those expenses," he said in the statement.

That means that, as far as Keene as concerned, the county also

will be on the hook for Keene's defense in a federal civil

rights lawsuit filed by former County Commissioner Ron Stotler,

who also filed the initial ethics complaint against the clerk.

Earlier this month, the County Commission officially asked

Keene to provide justification for his use of public funds to

pay his attorneys. At yesterday's meeting, he gave the

commission the statement and a thick binder of financial

documents.

He refused to answer questions or make further comments, saying

that his attorneys had advised him not to do so because of the

pending lawsuit.

In February 1994, Stotler filed Ethics Commission complaints

against Keene and his finance director, Don Moore, concerning

their handling of a county budget crisis in 1993. The complaint

against Keene was dropped in April 1994 without investigation;

the one against Moore was dismissed the following September.

The cost to county taxpayers to defend the complaint against

Keene totaled about $5,900, according to an analysis of Keene's

legal fees by the TimesUnion. Invoices indicate that at least

$42,200 was directly attributable to Keene's action to recover

legal fees from Stotler, which the Ethics Commission denied, the

analysis showed. …