by Sam Hieb
Interesting the same week we read about former Greensboro Police Chief David Wray going all the way to the NC Court of Appeals—and will probably have to go to the NC Supreme Court—to be reimbursed for legal fees related to various lawsuits comes news that the city paid Mayor Nancy Vaughan’s personal legal fees related to a lawsuit filed by a downtown developer over federal brownfield funds:
Developer Eric Robert sued the city in May 2015 regarding brownfield funds the city used to clean up the Union Square site at the intersection of South Elm Street and Gate City Boulevard. The Union Square Campus, a joint nurse training facility among the area’s major colleges and universities, is currently being built on a portion of the site. The area was considered a polluted brownfield and Greensboro received $6.6 million in federal money for site clean up.
Robert bought a portion of the land intended to be part of the overall project and redeveloped the Daily Bread Flour Mill at 816 S. Elm St. Robert sued the city after staffers declined to include his project in the reimbursements. The suit was dropped in February. Prior to that point, Mayor Vaughan was subject to depositions in the suit. The city was represented by City Attorney Tom Carruthers and had hired Patrick Kane of Smith, Moore Leatherwood.
The Yes!Weekly article did not delve into the legalities of reimbursing the Mayor Vaughan for her legal fees, but city policy regarding defense of its “officers and employees” was addressed in Wray’s lawsuit. According to the suit, the city enacted a policy in 1980 that “it is hereby declared to be the policy of the City of Greensboro to provide for the defense of its officers and employees against civil claims and judgments…..” However, there is also the issue of governmental immunity, which “provides the State, its counties and its public officials with absolute and unqualified immunity from suits against them in their official capacity.”
So the city in its defense against Wray’s claims for reimbursement of $220,000 in legal fees cited governmental immunity, but Wray and lawyers claimed the city waived its governmental immunity when it entered into a contract to employ Wray as police chief. The appeals court agreed with Wray, concluding that “the City is not shielded by the doctrine of governmental immunity to the extent that Plaintiff’s action is based in contract.”
So the city fights tooth and nail to deny the former police chief his legal fees but ponies up for the mayor. Those who know Gboro can’t help but see a political angle—the many lawsuits surrounding Wray involve alleged civil rights violations against black police officers, while Vaughan very much has staked her claim on the left as executive director of a nonprofit that supports LGBT issues and as a vocal opponent of HB2.
As I said earlier–interesting—very interesting.