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Government Official Defense In Civil Rights Lawsuits

Government officials sued individually for performing their job are generally entitled to qualified immunity from a lawsuit unless the action they took is outside the policy and procedures of the governmental entity they work for in the role they perform. There are other forms of immunity that may apply, but as always, it depends on the specific circumstances of your case. If you are a government official who has been sued, we can help. 

At the Chattanooga office of Tidwell & Associates, we have decades of combined experience that we utilize when seeking justice for you in civil rights defense matters. Defending the rights of government officials is a complex area of law that may originate for a variety of reasons. We have defended both elected and appointed officials in disputes over legislative efforts by elected officials, zoning ordinances, denial of relief to a business or individual who seeks release from the constraints of new legislation and even the suspension or revocation of some right allowed to a business or individual according to municipal law. Our lawyers take the time to explain the situation to you straightforwardly, so you can understand your rights and options.

Why You Need A Lawyer​

First, ignore the likely ridiculous amount that the other party is suing for. It is just a number picked out by a lawyer. It is intended to harass and intimidate you just as suing you in your individual capacity is intended in the same fashion.

Then, get legal counsel as quickly as possible while making a good choice. This area of the law has few practitioners in Southeast Tennessee. Consult with your municipal counsel and let them assist you with whether to seek outside counsel or to be represented by your municipal government’s counsel. Be aware that conflicts of interest — whether actual or potential — may make having an attorney other than your municipal counsel important even if you and the municipality don’t disagree on what happened and why. 

Actual Versus Potential Conflict Of Interest​

An actual conflict of interest is one that can be identified by a lawyer by reviewing the complaint and the facts leading up to the lawsuit. The parties usually occupy different legal positions in the case and there is a conflict between what has to be done to protect that official’s legal rights and the municipality’s legal rights. For example, a legislator may lead the charge to pass a controversial zoning ordinance that passes on a close vote and both the legislator and the municipality are sued. The legislator enjoys absolute legislative immunity and the municipality does not. This is an actual conflict of interest.

potential conflict of interest is just what it sounds like. A conflict could arise during litigation. Suppose the municipal lawyer is representing both the legislator and the municipality. That lawyer will have to withdraw from representation of both if a conflict does arise, causing delay in the case and upheaval in the defense.

If you doubt that you should consider outside counsel you should talk to a lawyer who practices in this area other than your municipal lawyer. 

Steps You Should Take

We recommend that government officials who are the ​subject of a lawsuit take the following steps:

  • Gather every document, email, text, report, memorandum or other documentary evidence that exists on the subject of the lawsuit and have it ready to deliver to your lawyer. If there is other evidence such as ordinances, resolutions, video or photographic evidence, get those items too, if you can.
  • Stay off of social media about your case. This is an absolute. Let people say what they will and ignore it. Easier said than done, we know. But it is essential that information not be disclosed anywhere.
  • Do not talk to any media outlet without talking to your lawyer. Some court rules prohibit any public statements outside of what is in the pleadings filed with the court. As a government official, it can be difficult to avoid public comment but remember, once you have talked to your attorney about this, you can say it is on the advice of counsel.
  • Be very cautious about sending texts or emails about the case without talking to your lawyer. Your professional and personal email and cell phones are subject to discovery. Everything in them is subject to review that is relevant to the case. All the texts, emails, social media posts and messages are fair game for the opposition. If you can’t read in church out loud or in open court, don’t send it.

Talk To A Lawyer At Our Firm Today

Remember that success is the best reward. Everything Tidwell & Associates does on your case is intended to achieve complete victory, from step one until the end of the case. Contact our office online or call us today at 423-340-4222 to learn more.