Hamilton County Commission OKs $200,000 in legal fees in effort to end Wamp-Taylor dispute

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Rheubin Taylor sits and listens on July 5 at the Hamilton County Chancery Court. Chancellor Jeffrey Atherton heard arguments in the lawsuit Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin Taylor filed against Mayor Weston Wamp.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Rheubin Taylor sits and listens on July 5 at the Hamilton County Chancery Court. Chancellor Jeffrey Atherton heard arguments in the lawsuit Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin Taylor filed against Mayor Weston Wamp.

Hamilton County commissioners authorized more than $200,000 in legal fees Wednesday as part of an agreement intended to end a 10-month dispute between Mayor Weston Wamp and County Attorney Rheubin Taylor.

The resolution, which the panel approved unanimously, states the county will pay up to $151,000 to Chartwell Law, the law firm representing the mayor, and up to $65,000 to Thomas & Thomas, the firm that represented Taylor.

"It is time to move on," Wamp, who attempted to unilaterally fire Taylor in October, told commissioners Wednesday. "I've had conversations with all of you at some point over the last year about this situation. I've learned a lot about how slow the judicial system moves. It's in the best interest of the county at this point to move on."

The funds approved in the resolution are in addition to nearly $50,000 Wamp's office has already paid to Chartwell Law. Chair Chip Baker, R-Signal Mountain, said the County Commission has also authorized up to $35,000 for services provided by its attorney, John Konvalinka. Wamp's office spent another $5,000 on a legal opinion from attorney Dwight Tarwater, who is now a justice on the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Taking into account those figures, the estimated bills stemming from Wamp's effort to fire Taylor total approximately $305,000.

"Do I like the amount of money that was spent? Absolutely not," Baker said in an interview. "But it's time we put this behind us for the people and for our operation as a county government."

Taylor thanked commissioners and added that he and his office want to cooperate with everyone in county government, including the mayor.

Legal fees

County leaders have authorized approximately $305,000 for expenses since Mayor Weston Wamp attempted to fire County Attorney Rheubin Taylor last October.

— Up to $200,000 to Chartwell Law, the law firm that represented Wamp.

— Up to $65,000 to Thomas & Thomas, the law firm that represented Taylor.

— Up to $35,000 for attorney John Konvalinka and the firm Grant, Konvalinka & Harrison for its services to the County Commission.

— The mayor's office also spent $5,000 on a legal opinion from attorney Dwight Tarwater.

"I pray that it's over," he said in an interview after the meeting. It's always been his plan to serve out the remainder of his contract, Taylor said.

After initially asking him to voluntarily step down, Wamp issued a news release in October announcing he was firing Taylor, citing among reasons private legal work Taylor conducted during business hours and the destruction of documents related to public records requests.

Commissioners came to Taylor's defense, passing resolutions designed to reaffirm his contract and preserve his access to his office and materials. They later overrode the mayor's vetoes of those resolutions.

Taylor filed a lawsuit against Wamp in Hamilton County Chancery Court on Oct. 31, asking the court to restore his health benefits and find that the mayor did not have the authority to fire him. In July, Chancellor Jeffrey Atherton upheld Taylor's four-year contract, which was approved during former Mayor Jim Coppinger's tenure.

Taylor has served as county attorney since 1993 and earns about $180,000. His current contract expires on June 30, 2025. It states that termination requires a majority of the County Commission with concurrence from the mayor or a two-third majority without the mayor's agreement. Officials have said it also permits Taylor to complete private work alongside his duties as county attorney.

The resolution approved Wednesday said Wamp and Taylor "mutually agree to work together amicably, appropriately and respectfully accommodate each other going forward," which will extend to their respective staffs.

Wamp and Taylor will also provide to commissioners copies of their itemized bills for legal services and will dismiss legal motions that have been filed since Atherton's final order was issued July 28.

Wamp initially had 30 days to appeal Atherton's decision, a deadline that would have ended Monday. In a motion filed Friday, Wamp's attorneys asked Atherton to rule on several questions they said had not been addressed in his final judgment. That gave the mayor another 30 days to decide whether to appeal. That motion will now be withdrawn.

Taylor's attorneys, meanwhile, filed a motion Tuesday asking the county to pay Taylor's legal fees. With commissioners committing to cover those costs via the resolution, that will also be withdrawn.

In a statement, Wamp said litigation is unfortunately expensive, and he had no choice except to retain counsel after Taylor sued him in his official capacity as county mayor.

"The reality is by the time an appeal would be heard, Taylor's contract will be nearly expired," Wamp said. "Based on our strong working relationship with the County Commission, we decided it was best to forgo an appeal and stay focused on the important work we are doing for the people of Hamilton County. I'm grateful to Chairman Baker for his leadership and the County Commission for unanimously approving our agreement to move county government forward."

Baker reiterated that the agreement approved Wednesday is designed to end this dispute.

"We've disagreed with this dispute from the beginning," he said. "We got pulled into it. We didn't like that. We felt strongly after we won the case in July that it was time to put all this behind us and move on."

Contact David Floyd at dfloyd@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

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