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No free lawyers in e-mail battle?
Commissioners say Scott, Bartlett must pay own legal fees

By Sheryl Marsh
smarsh@decaturdaily.com 340-2437

Morgan County officials who hired lawyers to help them keep their computer hard drives out of the hands of a forensic expert will likely have to pay them with personal money.

Sheriff Greg Bartlett and Revenue Commissioner Amanda Scott have each retained attorneys, officials said.

Decatur lawyer Jerry Knight is representing Scott.

Bartlett's Gadsden attorney, Donald Rhea, wrote a letter for him last week in an effort to stop county officials from getting the sheriff's hard drive for forensic examination.

Scott locked her computer hard drive in a vault and changed the locks on her office doors. Bartlett refused to release his for a computer specialist to copy last week and posted a deputy to block the way.

The commission is seeking to match hard drives against the main server to make sure no one erased information.

Commission Chairman John Glasscock acknowledged that any official who uses an attorney other than the county attorney should pay personally, while saying the commission could approve payment.

"My office will not pay for these private attorneys unless a resolution is passed by the majority of the commission to do so," Glasscock said.

"I will certainly do what the commissioners tell me to do."

The commission majority, however, said it would not pay Bartlett and Scott's personal legal bills.

"We have a law firm on retainer," said District 2 Commissioner Ken Livingston. "So, why should we hire another attorney to represent elected officials who are opposing our attorney and us? They should pay their own attorney. No, I wouldn't approve paying them."

George said a request to pay the private lawyers shouldn't make the agenda.

"I would not approve paying the personal bills of those who are against us and the taxpayers, and I would check to make sure the bills are not under general legal fees," said George. "The chairman shouldn't even put it on the agenda."

District 3 Commissioner Kevin Murphy said, "If we're not obligated to pay these attorneys, and to the best of knowledge we are not, I would vote against it."

District 1 Commissioner Jeff Clark said he would like legal advice before saying how he would vote.

"I can't answer that until I talk to Mr. (Bill) Shinn, (county attorney)," said Clark. "I don't know if we're liable for it or not."

Buddy Sharpless, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said the commission is not required to pay personal legal fees.

"Generally speaking, a county commission is not going to pay an attorney for a county official that has sued or opposes the commission," Sharpless said. "You can't blame the commission for that. Why would they pay an attorney for somebody who is suing them?"

Bartlett and Scott's actions have halted the investigation of inappropriate e-mails. Commissioners said they will consider next week whether to take action to get the county's hard drives from the two officials.

The commission unanimously called for an investigation after learning that the ex-human resources director sent a sexually charged e-mail to Glasscock, who forwarded it to Mayor Don Kyle, who said he told the chairman not to send another.

Someone leaked the e-mail, which showed naked women in calendar poses, to a television reporter, prompting the probe of all elected officials, department heads and political appointees.

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