Has Our Town Attorney violated the rules of Professional Conduct?

 

I personally have some concerns about Karen Hatton being the Town Attorney.  As I have stated before, Ms. Hatton does not have civil law experience and her law practice, similar to her having been an Assistant State’s Attorney has pertained primarily to Criminal Law.  In fact when she was an Assistant State’s Attorney, she had made several mistakes in her assertions of criminality in Joe Griffin’s case and we believe these errors we believe caused her demotion and subsequent removal as an Assistant State’s Attorney.  In Joe Griffin’s case the new Assistant State’s Attorney who replaced Ms. Hatton, stipulated that it could be seen that the Town was railroading us at the time with Ms. Hatton’s bias as well and as a result the charges were dropped.  Error upon error was indicated in her notes.

As to White Springs, Ms. Hatton, herself, did not review the Statutes relating to Local Option Fuel Tax Funds or inquire of the State if there were any questions as to why the Town should have retained a separate “Restrictive” Fund as Jennings and Jasper has done.  Instead Ms. Hatton told all concerned, without a review, that we should  listen to the CPA who in our opinions violated the statute with his emails stipulating how the Town could spend such money, for which the State Representatives did not agree, especially the Florida Department of Transportation.

Ms. Hatton recently agreed that the Town could carry a special meeting which by law was not an emergency meeting and which was not requested by council members or posted of 24 hours.  Joe has found the provisions Ms. Tebo brought forward the inference that the Charter allowed for a 24 hour meeting in spite of it being violation of the Sunshine Law and the Charter itself, as Joe has stated in a separate blog item.

Ms. Hatton was to review and provide a decision relating to the Sunshine Law and the complaints made against Councilor and Former Mayor Lofton regarding his negotiations with various entities and people, as well as investigations, without council approval.  When Mr. Griffin asked Mayor Miller after the workshop whether she had received the interpretation for this month’s meeting, we were told that Attorney Hatton had not returned Mayor Miller’s calls.

Conversely, although Ms. Hatton allegedly did not respond to Mayor Miller’s calls, two residents of whom we speak to fairly frequently said they were wondering why Ms. Hatton’s vehicle was parked at City Hall and if there was some type of problem.  Since apparently it was during the day, the only obvious situation one could determine is that Ms. Tebo called her in to discuss Town Matters.  However, Ms. Hatton should have not been discussing Town Matters in the Darkness when she did not respond to Mayor Miller as to whether she made the review and would present it to the Council at the next Meeting.  If it was personal and Tebo needed Ms. Hatton’s assistance on an issue that did not affect the Town or if Stacy Tebo had asked Ms. Hatton for advice on how to deal with Mayor Miller attempting to clean the White Springs Swamp, that is unethical and illegal on the Part of Ms. Hatton. In fact it is a violation of Ms. Hatton’s Professional Conduct as an attorney.

In an Attorney Client Relationship which is a Municipality, it is the Attorney’s duty to first work with the elected officials which are on the Council.  These elective officials handle all of the policies of the Town and make decisions about such policies.  Furthermore it is the Town Council collectively who hires the Town Manager and as a result the actual clients representing the Town are the Town Officials. 

 

I remember when we had our civil suit against the Town and ordered an abundance of paperwork, it appeared then that most of the correspondence was with then and now Mayor Miller.  Since Fredrick Koberlein, esquire was our Town Attorney, sometimes we would banter as if we were each other’s nemesis, for which he did not bill the Town.   Mr. Koberlein stipulated that there is no favoritism with any one council member but that he provided 20% of his time for each Council Member.  He did not state that he provided a percentage for the Town Manager who essentially whether under contract or agreement, is not the municipality’s client but who must carry out the policies and business activities of the Town on behalf of the Council .

 

Of course if the staff had questions about 119’s or other inquiries, the Council Members had directed Attorney Koberlein to work with the staff directly.  The Staff however was not the client and that is why Attorney Koberlein objected to the Town paying for the Town Manager to secure an attorney to essentially bring charges against a council member,  Miller, and to subsequently do what was necessary to remove Miller from her council seat, even though none of Miller’s acts were construed malfeasance except for Ms. Tebo and three of the councilors bias.   Miller is and was an elected official and technically Ms. Tebo was her employee under contract and Miller is and was the “client” for the Attorney, under the Town.   In fact Mayor Lofton has done far more to be removed from his seat, but the Town Manager did nothing because of her dislike for Miller.

 

Furthermore, although Ms. Hatton was requested to place the Charter Committee’s charter amendments for the ballot in a form which would be understandable by the citizens, the citizens appeared to have been confused by the matter.  Instead of placing everything which may pertain to a four year term in one area as is done professionally by other government entities or attorneys, the manner in which items were separated  was confusing and as a result anything and everything placed became difficult to determine and failed to pass.

 

Again the Council makes policies and the Attorney is hired to provide the council with information regarding laws of the state as well as reviews of law.  The Town Manager is a contract employee who should be informed of such information but however, the Manager is not the client of the Attorney.  The Client of the Attorney is the Council who hired the Town Attorney. 

Ms. Hatton has been hired by the Town Council and Serves at the pleasure of the elective Town Council Members collectively and severally and who are considered her “client”  by and behalf of the Citizens of White Springs who have elected these council members.

 

One resident apprised me that during a meeting where Mayor Miller was speaking, Ms. Hatton and our Town Manager Tebo were continually passing notes to each other.  This is a violation of Ms. Hatton’s Professional Conduct as an attorney, as well as a violation of the Sunshine Law.  Those notes which were passed should have been read to the public for full transparency rather than the two acting in the Darkness.

In Ms. Hatton’s alleged bias over a council member she has violated 1 and 3.  Rhett Bullard Violated 7 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

1] Lawyers are subject to discipline when they violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do so or do so through the acts of another, as when they request or instruct an agent to do so on the lawyer’s behalf. Paragraph (a), however, does not prohibit a lawyer from advising a client concerning action the client is legally entitled to take

3] Discrimination and harassment by lawyers in violation of paragraph (g) undermine confidence in the legal profession and the legal system. Such discrimination includes harmful verbal or physical conduct that manifests bias or prejudice towards others. . The substantive law of antidiscrimination and anti-harassment statutes and case law may guide application of paragraph (g).

[7] Lawyers holding public office assume legal responsibilities going beyond those of other citizens. A lawyer’s abuse of public office can suggest an inability to fulfill the professional role of lawyers. The same is true of abuse of positions of private trust such as trustee, executor, administrator, guardian, agent and officer, director or manager of a corporation or other organization.

 

What a Town Attorney is required to do:

The Town Attorney is hired under the direction of the Town Council.  The Town Attorney is the legal adviser and attorney for all officials, officers, and departments of the Town and represents the Town in all litigation and proceedings, including the prosecution of cases before the Municipal Court.

Work involves drafting and reviewing ordinances, resolutions, policies and procedures, and contracts prior to consideration by the Town Council to ensure compliance with state, federal, and local laws. Emphasis is placed on municipal law, civil code enforcement, land use, zoning, labor relations, and legislative interpretation. Duties include coordinating with outside counsel regarding litigation on behalf of the Town, researching/preparing oral and written legal opinions for the Town Council, Town Manager, Department Heads, staff, committees, commissions and boards, and preparing Town ordinances, resolutions, contracts and other legal documents involving the Town

 

Municipal Law Attorney

The candidate must have 2-3 years of municipal law experience, including planning, zoning and land use expertise. May be asked to attend legislative body meetings, as appropriate.

 

 

 

This is a portion of Karin Hatton’s Contract

 

This Legal Services Agreement is entered into between the Town of White Springs, Florida (hereinafter “Town”), a municipal corporation, and Hatton Law, PA (hereinafter “Firm” or “Attorney”) for legal services to be provided to the Town by the Firm and in furtherance of such services the parties further agree as follows:

 

GENERAL

  1. The Firm shall keep the Town informed of the status of the Town’s matters and will send the Town copies of all correspondence and pleadings related to the representation of the Town and the Town shall read all such matters to be aware of what is taking place.

 

  1. During the course of the Town’s matters, the Town may be required to provide to the Firm documents such as tax records, expense records, bank records, deeds, etc. The Firm will hold the records for the Town during the pendency of the Town’s actions. The Town shall not provide the Firm with original records unless specifically requested, in writing, to do so by the Firm.

 

  1. The Firm shall strive to complete the Town’s work as expeditiously as possible at a fair and reasonable cost, respective to the aforementioned rates.

 

  1. In the event the Town or the Firm desires to terminate this Agreement without either party being in default of the other conditions of the Agreement, the party desiring to terminate this Agreement shall provide the other party with its written desire with ninety (90) days advance notice of the proposed termination date.

 

  1. The laws of the State of Florida shall govern the construction and interpretation of this Agreement. In the event of a dispute over terms hereof, the parties agree that venue shall be in Hamilton County, Florida, and the parties agree to waive a jury trial.

The Firm shall be deemed an independent contractor of Town and not an employee or agent entitled to employee benefits, policies or regulations of the Town.

  1. The Firm understands and agrees to abide by all provisions of Chapter 119, Florida Statutes. Further, the Firm agrees to provide access to all public records and agrees to all provisions of Section 119.0701, Florida Statutes.   The Firm understands and agrees that failure by the Firm to grant public access to public records shall be grounds for immediate and unilateral cancellation of this Agreement by the Town.

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This did not include the fact that she solicited a collection against a citizen, Joe Griffin, for something which had been paid years ago; Thereby showing a bias against Joe Griffin, which her office has stated his calls will not be accepted by Ms. Hatton or her firm, and not doing due diligence regarding an investigation of whether hiring a collection agency was valid in the matter.

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