published Friday, March 27th, 2009

East Ridge votes to sue former city attorney

by Elizabeth Ryan

East Ridge city leaders voted unanimously Thursday to authorize a malpractice suit against former city attorney Cris Helton and his former law firm unless they agree to extend the city’s right to file a claim against them.

“I’m interested in protecting the city of East Ridge,” Councilman Brent Lambert said.

The issue extends back to 2006, to a lawsuit filed by Metro Products of Atlanta, claiming the city forced its adult entertainment store in East Ridge to stop sales of sexually explicit materials or face arrest and have its store padlocked.

Arguing it was never properly notified of the suit, the Tennessee Municipal League has repeatedly denied coverage of the $1 million claim, an oversight East Ridge contends is Mr. Helton’s fault.

In October 2007, interim City Attorney Michael Stewart recommended the city sue Mr. Helton and his former firm, McKoon, Williams and Gold, unless they signed a tolling agreement, which would extend the city’s right to file a suit against them.

Mr. Helton, however, said he notified TML in writing, and provided evidence of that notice during the city’s arbitration with TML last fall.

He has twice agreed to a renewal of the tolling, which is set to expire April 4, but said he was waiting to hear from his insurance carrier regarding the latest extension.

A panel of arbitrators has yet to decide whether TML’s denial of coverage was proper, according to city attorney John Anderson. If the insurer decides to pay for the city’s defense by April 1, he said East Ridge would not pursue action against Mr. Helton.

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