Lake City City Council votes against reimbursement of legal fees for Eugene Jefferson

LAKE CITY, Fla. (WCJB) - Lake City Council Member Eugene Jefferson was accused of widespread absentee ballot fraud leading up to his re-election in 2018.

He won that race by 21 votes over challenger Vanessa George, the plaintiff in the lawsuit alleging that at least 21 absentee ballots were obtained illegally.

That lawsuit was dismissed last month, leaving Jefferson with more than $17,000 in legal fees that he wanted the city to reimburse.

That request came to a vote at Monday's city council meeting.

"Why should the taxpayers reimburse him for defending himself?” ask City Council Member Jake Hill Jr.

Jefferson's lawyer standing by the request, saying the city should in fact pay for the legal fees: "He's actually defending his being in office. In other words, but for his being in office, he wouldn't be subject to this lawsuit."

Some Lake City residents argued that taxpayers shouldn't be responsible for the fees because the lawsuit was brought against Jefferson as an individual candidate, not as a city council member.

"Mr. Jefferson did not have to run for office. That was a personal choice. That was not a choice of his capacity as a council person. He did that on his own,” said one man. "He chose to run for office, and when you campaign and choose to run for office, there's consequences."

"This is one of the most self-serving requests for the expenditure of tax-payer money that I've seen in my entire public service life,” said another man. "He retained a lawyer in his capacity as an individual and as a candidate, and that's who should pay for it, not the taxpayers of the city of Lake City."

After passionate arguments on both sides, a motion was made that the city should not reimburse Jefferson for the legal fees.

That motion was passed unanimously by all city council members except Jefferson, who was not allowed a vote on this issue.