Reams’ legal fees will be settled in court

Lazaro Aleman
ECB Publishing, Inc.

Strip away the gobbledygook of the legal and actuarial language in the recent seven-page memo from Summit Risk Services to the Jefferson County Commission regarding Clerk of Court Kirk Reams' legal fees and it comes down to the county's insurance carrier declining to cover the costs.
Summit Risk Services describes itself as having partnered with Preferred Governmental Claim Services (PGCS) as a third-party administrator on behalf of the Preferred Governmental Insurance Trust, the county's public liability carrier.
In the memo, Edward A. Kron, of Summit, acknowledges receipt of the commission's request for a determination of coverage relative to reimbursement of Reams' legal fees and costs arising out of the criminal case brought against him by the state and his subsequent successful effort to overturn the Governor's suspension.
Kron likewise acknowledges receipt of the complaint filed by Reams and Attorney David Collins against the county for payment of the legal fees and other costs.
The answer, however, remains the same.
“We have determined that there is no coverage for this loss under the Public Official Liability Coverage Plan,” Kron basically states.
County Attorney Scott Shirley gave commissioners a simplified version of the seven-page memo on Thursday evening, April 18. He noted that Summit had reviewed the county's claim twice, once prior to litigation being filed, and again as a consequent of the lawsuit that Reams and Collins filed.
“It made no difference that the lawsuit was filed,” Shirley said. “They are still denying coverage.”
The main reason for the denial, he said, was that the claim arises out of an allegation of criminal activity. And even though Reams had been exonerated of the charge, it was Summit's position that it was still an allegation of criminal activity, which was expressly excluded from the policy.
The claim also, Shirley said, arguably arises out of a contractual agreement that Reams has with his attorney, and that is also excluded – claims arising out of contractual obligations.
“And some others basis that I thought were weak,” he said, without going into the details.
His recommendation, he said, was that the

board ask Paul Dawson, of Preferred Governmental Insurance Trust, to explain his earlier statements to Commissioner Stephen Walker. Which comments, Shirley said, had either been misunderstood, misinterpreted or not clearly communicated. Dawson supposedly advised that the board, through Walker, not to bother discussing the lawsuit and simply refer it to the insurance carrier for a determination.
Shirley also recommended that the board hold an executive session with the outside counsel who is defending the county in the lawsuit. He advised that the session be scheduled at the board's May meeting, by which time the county's response to the lawsuit would have been filed in court. The board, he said, could discuss litigation strategy at the executive session.
The reason that neither Shirley or Attorney Buck Bird are representing the county is that both are claiming a conflict because of their relationship with both Reams and the board.
Reams and Collins filed their lawsuit against the county on March 28, seeking payment of the legal fees arising out of Reams' criminal and civil cases in 2018. The lawsuit, in brief, asks the court to order the county to pay the Collins Law Firm more than $100,000 in legal fees, accrued interest and other related costs stemming from the two cases.
More specifically, the lawsuit seeks not only the $114,163 in combined legal fees from the criminal and civil cases, but also the interest from Jan. 11, 2018 (when Reams was exonerated on the criminal charges) and from Dec. 1, 2018 (when he was reinstated to office), plus the costs arising from the current proceedings.
The lawsuit argues that the criminal charges against Reams and his subsequent suspension by the Governor arose out of the performance of the former's official duties. Hence, goes the argument, Reams was entitled to a defense, and having been exonerated of the criminal charges and later reinstated by the Governor, he is entitled to have the county pay his legal fees.
A separate motion from Reams and Collins asks for recusal or disqualification of the judiciary in the Second Circuit Court, arguing that Reams may not receive a fair hearing because of his work relationship vis-a-vis the circuit's chief judge.
Former Governor Rick Scott suspended Reams from office in October 2017 after the latter was charged with petit theft for allowing his former girlfriend to use a county-owned laptop for her personal use for almost a year without authorization. In January 2018, a local jury exonerated Reams of the charge. Still, the Governor and Florida Senate refused to hold a hearing either to reinstate or remove him from office permanently.
Reams sued Scott and the Senate President in federal court in March 2018, arguing that he was been denied due process. The federal court agreed, and in December 2018, Scott signed an order reinstating Reams to office.