Embattled Charlotte County Commissioner Robert Skidmore — who is at the center of two separate legal battles involving allegations of bribery, gender discrimination and sexual harassment — is asking the County Commission to pay for his legal defense up front.
“Under authority of a resolution of the Board of County Commissioners, I am asking that the county pay in advance as I am unable to do so personally,” Skidmore said in a written petition submitted to County Attorney Janette Knowlton.
Under county code, the commission, by way of resolution, can authorize paying an individual commissioner’s legal expenses in civil and ethics-violation cases when “such charges complained of arise from or in connection with performance of public duties and while serving a public purpose.”
According to Knowlton, commissioners have to determine whether the complaints lodged against Skidmore meet the legal criteria that warrant paying his defense. If the commission agrees that they do, then commissioners will have to decide how much the county is willing to pay hourly for an attorney, or whether to place a cap on legal expenses, Knowlton said.
As of Wednesday, Skidmore had not submitted any estimates of what his total legal bills might be or how much he is asking for, Knowlton said. The only thing her office has received from Skidmore, Knowlton said, was a quote for attorneys’ hourly rate in each case: $325 per hour for the federal discrimination and harassment case; $275 per hour for the ethics (bribery) complaint.
“Normally it’s a reimbursement. It’s after the fact,” Knowlton said. “But on many of these, it’s a hardship (for) somebody to pay for them, so (he) asked for advance payment. So he is presenting his petition to the board so the board has to make their finding.”
Skidmore will have to present the board with dollar amounts before Tuesday’s meeting, if he wants the matter is to be considered, county officials said.
“Based on the documentation, I’m not sure this is a valid request at this point,” said Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch.
On Aug. 1, former county employee Shonna Jenkins filed an 18-page complaint with the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Florida, in which she alleges, among other things, that Skidmore sexually harassed her with innuendo, overt sexual comments and propositions beginning in 2008. Charlotte County also is named as a co-defendant in the lawsuit, which creates a conflict of interest if Skidmore’s case is handled in-house.
Concurrent with the federal suit is a complaint filed by Punta Gorda resident Mike Brown on
Sept. 12, 2011, with
the state Commission on Ethics alleging numerous ethics violations, including bribery.
Commissioners are likely to discuss the matter at the commission’s preagenda meeting Monday
before putting it to a vote at their regular-meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the County Administration building in Murdock.