Lawsuit attempts to block reimbursement of Lee's legal fees

Joseph Lee
Joseph Lee

By Nick Kenney - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - A Memphis lawyer is suing the city of Memphis over former MLGW president Joseph Lee's legal bills.  It's the latest step in a prolonged legal battle that began Lee and then City Council member Edmund Ford were indicted.

In 2007, the government charged Lee with allowing Ford to avoid paying nearly $16,000 in utility bills in exchange for favors on the Memphis City Council.

Ultimately, the charges were dropped, but Lee claims he racked up more than $426,000 worth of legal fees in his own defense, and that MLGW should pay the bill.

In late June, the city settled a lawsuit with Lee, reimbursing him the full amount. But not everyone agreed with the move, including a private citizen named Al H. Thomas.

Thomas, a longtime local attorney, runs his practice out of 100 North Main.  He hired another attorney and filed suit against the city, MLGW, Lee and his attorneys.

The suit claims that re-imbursing Lee is illegal, because Tennessee state law does not allow public funds to pay for private attorneys fees.  Thomas declined an interview request Wednesday, but said he believes the reimbursement rips off taxpayers and that someone needed to step up and fight it.

Wednesday morning, Shelby County Chancery Judge Arnold Goldin signed an injunction effectively freezing more than $426,000 the city paid lee for his legal expenses.

Goldin wants to hear arguments from all the parties involved, and has set aside a day next month to do just that.

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