Letter could mean trouble for Memphis City Attorney - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Letter could mean trouble for Memphis City Attorney

By Kontji Anthony - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - A letter has been circulating through City Hall and FBI offices over the last week that even private attorneys across the city of Memphis are talking about.

Some say the letter could topple City Attorney Elbert Jefferson's house of cards, others say there's wiggle room.

"I think politically he's definitely in trouble and legally he probably is too," said political analyst Jackson Baker.

Baker’s comments come after the FBI questioned Jefferson over a $55,000 payment of city tax dollars to cover former Mayor Willie Herenton's legal defense in a federal investigation.

Jefferson approved the payment, which included fees to research one of Herenton's private real estate deals.

"I think this is going to be a crucial exhibit in any investigation and any resolution of any investigation," added Baker.

Memphis City Council members say public dollars should not be spent on a private attorney bill, but Herenton says cities all over America pay if a public servant is under investigation.

However, an October 14, 2008 letter is now surfacing from Memphis City Hall records.

The former mayor wrote to the city attorney "in my opinion, the real estate transaction in question was private and did not involve my public office."

"It's very clear that the issue of the business transaction Herenton regarded as very private and therefore any criminal defense on that is private," observed Baker.

However, Baker says there could be wiggle room because Herenton also asked Jefferson to "investigate the transaction to determine if there are any ethics violations," leaving the matter open-ended.

"He's asking in the letter Jefferson to research the matter to establish that fact,” added Baker.  “That's how I think it can be interpreted and that's Jefferson's best hope."

District Attorney General Bill Gibbons’ office also subpoenaed Jefferson and three other city employees, which has yet to happen.

Tuesday morning, the Memphis City Council will vote if they should fire Jefferson over the payment.

It's unknown if Jefferson will be there to defend himself.

He is out sick at his doctor’s advice.

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