Commissioners Face Gibbs Alone

Three Escambia County Commissioners facing individual lawsuits may be on their own. The lawsuits stem from decisions each commissioner made in an official capacity.

“I don’t know how the board plans to proceed on this point,” said Escambia County Attorney Alison Rogers “It is true that one option would be that each commissioner go obtain their own attorneys and see how that plays out.”

Commissioners Grover Robinson, Kevin White and Marie Young are being sued by Forest Gibbs. Gibbs is accusing the trio of unjustly removing him from a newly attained job at the county’s equestrian center.

Gibbs’ hiring was mired in controversy—with accusations that commission Chairman Wilson Robertson had muscled an unqualified candidate into the job—and was ultimately reversed by the commission. Robinson, White and Young cast the votes that sealed Gibbs’ employment fate. Commissioner Gene Valentino was not present during the vote and was not named in Gibbs’ suit.

“We did bring a motion to dismiss,” Rogers said. “I understand Judge Nobles is denying that motion.”

While she said the county has not received written communication from the judge, Rogers did say that once an order arrived the three commissioners would have 60 days “to square away their attorney situation.”

According to Rogers, state statute dictates that Escambia County will be reimbursing the individual commissioners if they prevail in the courtroom.

“To make it simplistic,” the attorney said, “if they were successful, the county is responsible.”

If the commissioners lose their cases, the board could still conceivably pick up the legal tabs. Rogers said that the officials were in “unusual” territory, and that there are varying definitions of “success.”

“It depends, it totally depends,” Rogers explained. “In the law there are so many shades of grey I’d hate to say ‘yes’ or ‘no‘ — the long and the short of it is it’d be hard to say.”

The county attorney said she did not know when the commissioners—acting collectively as the county body, not individually—would address the situation. The matter is not on this week’s meeting agenda.

“I’m personally not planning to bring it as an add-on,” Rogers said.

When the commissioners do tackle Gibbs’ accusation it will most likely be without county representation. The county attorney said that acting as the commissioners’ counsel could pose conflict of interests issues, and was also problematic because county officials or employees could be called as witnesses.

“In fact, we told the judge at the hearing that we will not be representing them going forward,” Rogers said. “There are a number of reasons for that.”