Putnam County pays out $6,000 to defend
Court Clerk Lewis Coomer's personal lawsuit

McBroom squanders thousands more in legal fees
in  failed attempt to fight revealing the amount

Putnam Pit editor
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. [July 15] -- Eight months after U.S. District Judge Thomas Wiseman Jr. ruled that convicted car thief Michael Chambers could sue Putnam County Court Clerk Lewis Coomer as an individual but not in his official capacity, taxpayers are still paying to defend him.

The Putnam Pit sued Putnam County and County Executive Doug McBroom under the state's public records law after McBroom refused to divulge the amount the county was paying for Coomer's defense.  This week, the county's Knoxville lawyers handed over the information, as well as legal fees to cover The Pit's expenses in forcing the county to abide by the law.

Since December 1997,  Putnam County has funneled $5,312.50 in legal fees and $798.50 in expenses to the Cookeville law firm Moore, Rader, Clift & Fitzpatrick, according to Nathan D. Rowell, a Knoxville lawyer hired by the county in its unsuccessful bid to keep information about the expenditure of public funds from the public.

Coomer is being sued as an individual for allegedly keeping Chambers in jail despite an order from the state court of criminal appeals stating he should remain free pending an appeal to the state supreme court.

McBroom has been directing the county trustee's office to pay the bills from the general fund to Legge Insurance Agency, which then passes the money to Cookeville lawyer Daniel Rader, Coomer's lawyer.

Rader and McBroom balked at releasing the amount paid to defend Coomer, who is seeking re-election despite a number of scandals, including illegally shaking down prisoners for fees they didn't owe and having nearly four dozen parking tickets fixed by someone in the Cookeville Police Department.

Chambers filed suit against Coomer, individually and in his official capacity, and District Attorney General William E. Gibson, in his official capacity, alleging that the two conspired in 1996 to prevent his release from custody despite an order from the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.

In December 1997, Wiseman dismissed the cases against Gibson and Coomer in their official capacities but allowed Chambers to pursue his case against Coomer in his individual capacity.

In the months that McBroom refused to reveal the amount of tax money going to defend Coomer as an individual, he also spent thousands of dollars to defend the county's illegal position that records of payments of public money to defend public officials in civil rights cases do not have to be made public.

In addition to paying for three defense lawyers to drive to Kingston for a June 23 hearing, McBroom also paid out $2,800 to Cookeville lawyer Manuel Edwards for The Pit's legal fees and expenses, according to a deal worked out to avoid an appeal by the government after Edwards and The Pit won the case.

McBroom, who is running for re-election, was not in his office on five visits to his office when the Pit sought the records, and he was not in his office when The Pit tried to contact him for comment. 

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