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City Council to rule on paying legal fees in slavery-museum lawsuit
Fredericksburg City Council will vote tomorrow on spending city money to pay fees from an FOI suit.

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Date published: 10/8/2001

The Fredericksburg City Council will vote tomorrow on whether to spend $7,380 in city money to cover attorneys' fees from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit won by The Free Lance-Star.

Five council members--all but Mayor Bill Beck and Councilman Scott Howson--were ordered to reimburse the newspaper for its legal fees in the suit, which was heard Aug. 23 by Fredericksburg Circuit Judge John W. Scott Jr.

Scott ruled that the five council members--Ambrose Bailey, Harold Bannister, Richard Garnett, Joe Wilson and Vice Mayor Gordon Shelton--violated the Virginia Freedom of Information Act by participating in an illegal closed-door meeting on a proposed slavery museum. Howson and Beck voted to keep the meeting open.

The five were defended by former Roanoke City Attorney Wilburn C. Dibling. Dibling's fees of approximately $9,240 will come out of the city attorney's budget for outside legal services.

Pates said he has $25,000 in his annual budget to cover such expenses. He recused himself from representing any council members, citing a conflict of interest because Beck and Howson opposed closing the session.

Beck hired his own lawyer and Howson did not have legal representation. Beck said he will not seek city funds to pay his legal fees.

Although the suit was filed against individual members of the council, Virginia law states that the city is obligated to pay for lawsuits that involve members of government bodies performing official duties.

"Except in cases of criminal or willful misconduct, the City has always borne the cost of judgments entered against its officers and employees," Pates wrote in a memorandum to the council.

The council will meet at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at City Hall.