Luttrell Vetoes Commission Move to Limit Ability to Hire Outside Legal Counsel

By Bill Dries

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell has vetoed an ordinance given final approval by the Shelby County Commission earlier this month that would limit the power of the mayor to seek outside counsel and bar any county elected official from using special counsel to file a civil lawsuit against the commission.

In his Aug. 17 letter to commission chairwoman Heidi Shafer, Luttrell cites a legal opinion from county attorney Kathryn Pascover that reads in part: “We believe that the ordinance is flawed in its drafting. Moreover, it is likely that a court would hold that the litigation ordinance, as drafted, would violate the Tennessee Constitution, Tennessee state law and the Shelby County Charter.”

Luttrell added in the letter: “With the legal opinion provided, I have absolutely no choice but to veto this ordinance. We, as elected officials, are sworn to uphold the charter and the laws of the state of Tennessee and I fully intend to do just that.”

The veto sets the stage for a veto override vote by this commission’s last regularly scheduled meeting Aug. 27. The commission also could call a special meeting before the end of August. To override the mayor’s veto requires eight votes on the 13-member commission.

Luttrell vetoed an earlier resolution by the commission renewing the appointment of former commissioner Julian Bolton as the commission’s legislative policy adviser. Bolton, an attorney, bills the commission at an hourly rate. Attempts by some commissioners to restrict his duties to non-legal matters didn’t have the votes to pass.

The commission overrode Luttrell’s veto of the Bolton resolution.

Shafer has led a majority on the commission who contend they should be able to have their own legal counsel independent of the county attorney to advise the commission just as the Memphis City Council does.

Luttrell argues that the county charter differs from the city charter on that point.

The commission and administration clashed earlier this year on the larger point of legal representation when the commission filed suit in Shelby County Circuit Court against manufacturers and distributors of opioids. Shafer moved to hire a legal firm to represent the commission and the commission later ratified the decision.

Luttrell filed suit in Chancery Court arguing that, too, was a violation of the county charter.

Chancellor Jim Kyle sided with Luttrell, but kept the lawsuit in place giving Luttrell the opportunity to intervene and have the administration join in the lawsuit, which Luttrell ultimately did.