Hamilton County mayor narrows legal focus in Taylor dispute as ‘good faith gesture’

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / County Attorney Rheubin Taylor, left, listens as Mayor Weston Wamp speaks during a Hamilton County Commission meeting at the Hamilton County Courthouse on Oct. 19.

Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp is narrowing the scope of a counterclaim he initially filed in November to focus on the legitimacy of County Attorney Rheubin Taylor's four-year contract and whether the mayor has the power to fire the county attorney.

"As a good faith gesture to expedite the legal process, we have filed a motion to dismiss four of the five counts in our response to Rheubin Taylor's lawsuit against my office," Wamp said in a statement Monday, referencing an order entered last week in Chancery Court.

"My concerns about the unethical practices of Mr. Taylor are known, but at this time I believe it is best for the county for a court to rule specifically on the validity of the contract in question and the county mayor's power to appoint the county attorney. Then we can all move on."

By taking that action, Wamp hopes to see the matter resolved before the next scheduled hearing March 6.

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Wamp is asking the court to find that Taylor's contract is unenforceable and that only the mayor can appoint the county attorney. His counterclaim states that the Hamilton County Employee Handbook classifies the county attorney as an at-will employee and that the time frame of Taylor's contract exceeds the term of former Mayor Jim Coppinger.

Hamilton County commissioners approved Coppinger's reappointment of Taylor on June 16, 2021. Wamp and a new, 11-member crop of county commissioners took office Sept. 1, 2022.

The mayor's attorney, Barret Albritton of Chartwell Law, said in a phone call Monday that Wamp's team still believes the dismissed counts are valid, and they reserve the right to bring them back if they decide it's necessary.

Wamp tried to fire Taylor on Oct. 14, citing among his reasons private work the attorney completed on county time. Taylor has served as county attorney for three decades and receives an annual salary of about $180,000. He has held on to his position with support from the Hamilton County Commission.

On Oct. 31, Taylor sued the mayor in Chancery Court in an effort to preserve his health benefits, which have since been restored along with his pay and his access to county-issued equipment. He is also asking the court to declare that his existing contract is valid.

The contract lasts through June 2025. It states that it can be terminated by either party for good cause with six months written notice -- or sooner by mutual agreement. Termination, it continues, can occur if a majority of the County Commission decides to do so with agreement from the county mayor. If the county mayor doesn't want to end the contract, two-thirds of the County Commission must vote to terminate it.

The contract allows Taylor to "engage in any other non-conflicting activities on a professional basis."

Wamp filed his response to Taylor's suit Nov. 30.

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"Our hand was forced when Rheubin sued us," Albritton said Monday. "Now that we are in court, it has been and will continue to be the mayor's aim to hopefully put a swift resolution to the entire matter by filing a dispositive motion," seeking an answer from the court.

The counts Wamp dismissed last week included the accusation that Taylor had breached his fiduciary duty to the county, citing among other allegations private work that Taylor conducted out of the county attorney's office while using county resources on county time.

In the court filing, Wamp had called for Taylor to forfeit his accrued time off, disgorge profits from his "shadow law firm" and return compensation he had received while engaging in "conduct adverse to the county's interests."

If he had retired in mid-November of last year, Taylor's payout before deductions would have been about $145,000, according to Hamilton County Human Resources.

In another voluntarily dismissed count, Wamp had asked the court for an injunction to prevent Taylor from directing his staff to ignore the mayor's office, appearing in the county attorney's office in any official capacity, acting as a legal advocate on behalf of the county or engaging private counsel to represent county employees without approval from the mayor and commission.

Reached by phone Monday, Taylor had no comment.

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