Licking County News

Council declines to pay Fox's legal fees

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Pataskala City Council on June 2 declined to second two motions made by Todd Barstow regarding legal fees incurred by City Councilman Mike Fox in his defense against three charges of malfeasance brought against him late last year.

Barstow first made a motion to authorize the payment of Fox's attorney fees; that motion died because no one seconded it.

He then made a motion to authorize the city to enter into a binding arbitration process to deal with the fee issue, which also died for lack of a second.

"Now I know where everybody stands," Barstow said.

City Council and Fox on Jan. 15 agreed to a negotiated deal requiring Fox to apologize for the three charges brought against him and accept a reprimand.

By doing so, Fox retained his seat on City Council.

Barstow said although Pataskala's charter states the city would pay a City Council member's legal fees if the person retains his or her seat, that was not part of the agreement signed Jan. 15.

Barstow, a practicing attorney, said he understands what the charter says but also understands that payment of the fees should have been listed in the agreement.

He said Fox could sue the city for the fees, thereby forcing the city to pay more legal costs.

Barstow said by making the motions, he had hoped to put an end to the issue.

"I'm disappointed that nobody made a second to the motion so at last it would be discussed and folks could publicly express their view," he said.

Fox said he also is disappointed.

He read a portion of the charter to City Council, emphasizing the section that read, "If a person accused is not finally removed, the city shall pay the reasonable costs of the defense of such person and any compensation withheld pending the appeal of the action of the council."

"I think that's pretty clear, I think that's pretty obvious how things are and I'm disappointed in council not going forward with the issue right now," Fox said June 2.

"I understand there are personal things with council going on right now that I hope is not affecting it. I believe the city charged me with a crime; the city never convicted me of a crime and never removed me from office, as the charter clearly states, and because they did that, reasonable attorney costs of the defendant are fair."

The invoice submitted Jan. 22 from the Mallory Law Office of Columbus, where Fox's attorney, Acacia Perko, works, was for $10,805.76.

In a letter dated March 21, the law office sent another invoice to the city, which said the law firm would apply its standard 1.5 percent interest rate on bills outstanding 30 days or more. The interest would be added per month until the invoice was paid, the letter said.

The letter said that if the city did not pay the bill, the law firm will seek "a declaratory judgment from a court to enforce the city of Pataskala's obligation for our reasonable legal fees in the defense of Fox per the city's own charter, and will seek to recover from the city the costs incurred in obtaining such judgment."

Fox said he wants the issue to be discussed in public and called avoiding it a direct violation of the city charter.

He said after the meeting that he understands City Council might not want to talk about the issue without all members present.

Bryan Lenzo, who was present during the June 2 meeting, left prior to Barstow's motion.

Fox was issued a letter Nov. 25, 2013, informing him City Council on Jan. 14 would hear two charges of malfeasance against him related to the firing of former West Licking Fire Chief David Fulmer and an incident at an emergency scene.

Former Mayor Steve Butcher, who lost his re-election bid to Mike Compton last November, served the letter to Fox because the city charter required the mayor to act as the "charging official."

In December 2013, Butcher added a third charge, an ethics violation, alleging Fox voted Dec. 16 on a budget amendment that would have taken $25,000 for a special prosecutor out of the city's budget.

To put the matter to rest, City Council members voted 4-1 on Jan. 15 to accept the agreement, with Barstow, Dan Hayes, Tim Hickin and Lenzo voting in favor of it and Pat Sagar voting against it. Law Director Rufus Hurst said acceptance of the agreement required a majority vote.

According to the agreement, Fox apologized for the charges alleging that he committed malfeasance by participating in disciplinary proceedings for Fulmer after City Council directed him not to do so.

He also apologized for an incident that occurred July 22, 2013, when heavy rainfall caused a section of foundation to collapse at a building at the northeast corner of Front and Main streets. Fox, whose businesses were based in the building, attempted "to obstruct official business by interfering with the fire department trying to secure the area for the purpose of protecting the public," according to the agreement.

Fox apologized publicly Jan. 6 for the third charge, for discussion of and voting on special counsel funding Dec. 16, which was recognized in the agreement.

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