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Horgan vs. Brown: Ethics battle goes to court

Former Fayette County Commissioner Robert Horgan wants current County Commission Chairman Steve Brown to repay the $2,128 in legal fees he was reimbursed for relating to two ethics complaints Horgan filed against Brown.

Horgan’s attorney, former county attorney Scott Bennett, filed a lawsuit last week in Fayette County Superior Court seeking to order Brown to repay the money despite the commission’s 3-0 vote authorizing the funding on April 25. Brown was listed as an individual defendant along with the county, but none of the other four commissioners were named in the suit individually.

Horgan contends that the county does not stand to benefit from paying for a lawsuit seeking to overturn the ethics board’s Jan. 23 decision that Brown violated the county’s ethics ordinance, nor will it benefit by paying for the attorney who represented Brown in the second ethics hearing March 13.

Although the ethics board determined at its Jan. 23 meeting that Brown violated a provision of the ethics ordinance that prevented commissioners from giving individual directives to employees, the panel decided not to enact any penalty on Brown for the violation. Brown was cleared of the second ethics complaint filed by Horgan.

Because there are no benefits to the county based on the outcome of the appeal or the March 13 ethics board hearing, the payment falls under the anti-gratuity clause of the Georgia constitution, Horgan argues in the lawsuit. The county, Horgan contends, is not at the risk of exposure to any loss or damages as the result of the ethics board’s Jan. 23 decision that Brown violated the ethics ordinance last year when he asked the county’s human resources director in an email to research a hiring matter with the Georgia attorney general’s office.

The commission earlier this year removed the portion of the ethics ordinance that kept commissioners from giving individual directions to employees, largely on that basis that it prevented them from engaging staff on mundane issues such as replenishing toilet paper in a county restroom.

Horgan’s lawsuit contends while the commission authorized paying a $300 an hour rate for Brown’s personally-selected attorney in the lawsuit seeking to overturn the Jan. 23 ethics board decision, the county administrator has authorized hiring an attorney to represent the ethics board at the rate of $150 an hour.

“Thus the county has agreed to pay Brown’s legal expenses at a rate that is twice that of the ethics board to handle the same appeal,” the lawsuit states.

In the lawsuit, Horgan is seeking an injunction to force Brown to repay the legal fees, and he further asks for a writ of prohibition ordering the commission to “cease and desist making any payments for private attorneys fees to its members.”

Horgan is also seeking to be compensated for his attorneys fees. He is being represented by former County Attorney Scott Bennett, with whom Brown has clashed numerous times.

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