GREENSBORO — Taxpayers will pay more than $8,500 for the private lawyer Mayor Nancy Vaughan used last year during a deposition in a downtown developer’s lawsuit against the city.
Vaughan said in October she would use her own money to pay the attorney who represented her personally during the deposition in Eric Robert’s multi-million dollar suit, which he has since dropped.
On Friday, Vaughan said she changed her mind after learning from City Attorney Tom Carruthers that it would be “entirely appropriate” for the city to cover her fees to Amiel Rossabi.
“It is proper for the city to pay since it was city business,” Vaughan said. “I was deposed in my role as mayor. It was city business.”
Rossabi’s bill was $8,545.80.
On Saturday, Carruthers cited a city policy that covers personal attorney fees for council members — and other city officials and employees — when they have a different legal standing from the city.
The city had hired Patrick Kane of the Smith Moore Leatherwood law firm to defend the suit by Robert. He claimed he should have gotten federal grant money for a project in the South Elm Street area.
Robert said in an affidavit in October that Vaughan contradicted the city’s legal argument in private conversations with him — conversations that were the subject of the deposition.
The city tried unsuccessfully to stop it, arguing that Vaughan was neither a defendant in the suit nor a City Council member when Robert applied for the federal grant.
So Vaughan hired Rossabi, who directed Vaughan not to answer many of the questions during the deposition.
Paying Rossabi’s bill puts the city in an unusual position, since it is simultaneously arguing that it should not pay former Police Chief David Wray’s legal fees.
Several officers sued the city and Wray for discrimination. They contended that under Wray’s command, the department created a “black book” with pictures of 19 black officers for the “purpose of framing, embarrassing and wrongfully investigating” them.
The city successfully petitioned the state to dismiss Wray’s suit, saying the city had “governmental immunity” that protects it from such claims.
The state Court of Appeals overturned that decision Tuesday, which gives Wray the go-ahead to resume his suit.
Carruthers said the city will appeal to the state Supreme Court.
He said Saturday that the Wray situation is different from Vaughan’s. The 1980 policy says the city doesn’t have to pay such legal costs if there is “fraud, corruption or actual malice” involved.
Carruthers said four city managers have taken the position that Wray’s actions were malicious.
Vaughan said she made the right decision letting the city pay Rossabi’s bill.
“There was no logical reason why I would be deposed,” Vaughan said. “It was a strong-arm tactic to force a settlement. I wasn’t going to be bullied by the opposing attorney.”
“It’s unfortunate that we’ve wasted so much money on this case.”