Despite County Commission efforts to halt the Weston Wamp/Rheubin Taylor controversy, the new county mayor has filed papers vigorously pressing on with efforts to oust the longtime county attorney.
He is asking Chancery Court to put down a permanent injunction blocking attorney Taylor from acting as county attorney. The Wamp office said, "That was added in the counterclaim, but we are not seeking an injunction at this time, but it was included if we needed to at a later date."
A statement from the mayor's office said, “The County Mayor’s office had a November 30th deadline to respond to Rheubin Taylor’s ongoing legal action against Hamilton County Mayor, Weston Wamp. The Mayor’s response to Mr. Taylor’s suit asserts Mayor Wamp’s clear authority and obligation under state law to appoint all department heads, which, in this case, would include Mr. Taylor who is, unquestionably, the head of Hamilton County’s legal department. The response also substantiates the Mayor’s position that incident to the right and obligation to appoint, is the authority to terminate. It is not the Mayor’s intention to seek to remove Mr. Taylor from the office by way of an injunction.
"Separately, our response and our counterclaims also summarize the extensive evidence the County Mayor’s office has identified as justification to terminate Mr. Taylor for cause. Mayor Wamp worked tirelessly for weeks to find a resolution with the commission and Mr. Taylor that would have avoided protracted litigation. Mr. Taylor, however, was uninterested and unwilling to consider a resolution outside of court. Our primary objective is to seek an expeditious court ruling on the County Mayor’s authority before a judge outside of Hamilton County.”
County Mayor Wamp filed a 29-page answer and counterclaim in Chancery Court after County Attorney Taylor earlier filed suit, saying he could not be fired because he has an ongoing contract running through June 30, 2025.
The county mayor is also asking that Chancellor Jeffery Atherton recuse himself in the case, saying he sat in on a County Commission meeting for a lengthy time in which the dispute was a main topic.
The Wamp filing says, "During Taylor's tenure, the county attorney's office has run grossly overbudget, including being overbudget by over $1 million total for the years 2018 through 2022.
"Mayor Wamp has also become dissatisfied with the county attorney's office as members of the office leaked information and violated the county's attorney-client privilege. Specifically, members of the county attorney's office leaked information to members of the County Commission related to a personnel issue in a county department.
"Mayor Wamp also had reasonable suspicions that Taylor was engaging in the private practice of law through the county attorney's office."
"It says Mayor Wamp "removed Taylor from the Hamilton County payroll, revoked Taylor's access to his county-issued computer, locked Taylor out of his county-provided email address, revoked access to his county-provided cell phone, and revoked his keycard access to enter the county attorney's office. Despite these efforts, Taylor continued coming into the county attorney's office and continued working on county legal matters.
"In other words, an individual who was no longer being paid by the county, had no county-issued computer, no county-issued email address, and had been locked out of the county attorney's office, still came into work to purportedly practice law on behalf of the county.
"Further, Taylor instructed members of the county attorney's office to no longer attend Mayor Wamp's staff meetings, to ignore directives from Mayor Wamp's chief of staff, and generally to be insubordinate and subversive to Mayor Wamp and his staff."
It says attorney Taylor "then lobbied members of the County Commission to help him keep his job." The filing says the County Commission began to intervene in behalf of attorney Taylor by passing a series of resolutions.
It was claimed that attorney Taylor has been "utilizing county resources for his own private practice of law through a shadow law firm he operates out of the county attorney's office, with the county paying the operating costs of that office, and with Taylor retaining the fees generated from this private work rather than remitting them to the county."
It says attorney Taylor has handled some 200 cases in local courts not involving the county since 1993. That included former County Mayor Jim Coppinger hiring him to handle his mother's estate, it was stated.
The filing says, "Each hour Taylor spent on private litigation matters was an hour he could not devote to county matters."
It says, "Taylor also never utilized his paid time off for his private litigation practice, and, as such, upon termination, he has accrued paid time off worth approximately $140,000 before taxes."
The filing says Mayor Wamp asked to meet with attorney Taylor on Nov. 15, but he said he had a conflict. It says the conflict was a private mediation conducted during the work day.
It says the county attorney's office has used at least three private law firms who have billed the county over $1 million.
The Wamp filing said the Taylor pay, benefits, computer, email privileges, phone access and parking privileges have been restored so there is no need for a injunction hearing next Thursday on that issue.
It says the county attorney is an at-will employee and "Taylor can be terminated for good cause, bad cause, or no cause or all."
Attorney Barret Albritton, who is being paid out of county funds up to a maximum just under $25,000, said, "Taylor has failed to maintain client confidences by utilizing a computer and email system he does not own to conduct private business." Attorney Taylor said he had authorization to do some private legal work.
The attorney said, "Mayor Wamp vehemently denies that the County Commission has the authority to enter into employment contracts, much less the authority to extend an employment contract past the term of the appointing party. Further, Mayor Wamp denies that the County Commission is a party to Taylor's purported contract." In the past, officials have acted on the premise that the county attorney works both for the county mayor and the commission on an equal basis.
The Wamp filing says "the County Commission lacks the authority to hire or fire anyone, including Taylor."
It says, "Mayor Wamp, through evidence acquired after Taylor's termination, would have fired Taylor for cause due to discovery of gross misconduct, and. . . would have had terminated Taylor for that gross misconduct had it been in Mayor Wamp's possession a the time of Taylor's termination."
The filing says, "Mayor Wamp's actions were all taken for legitimate, non-discriminatory, and non-retaliatory reasons. Mayor Wamp acted at all times in good faith and without malice or willfulness."
It says, "Mayor Wamp has not yet completed his investigation of this matter."
The filing says the county handbook as updated in 2017 lists the county attorney as an "at-will" employee.