City, Winfield say plea for phone info ‘fishing expedition’

Published 11:26 am Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Turning over two years of cell phone records amounts to a “fishing expedition,” lawyers for the city and Mayor Paul Winfield said in the latest round of briefs filed in the sexual harassment suit filed against the city by Kenya Burks, Winfield’s former chief of staff.

Burks is seeking cell phone records from AT&T between 2009 and 2011 for her and Winfield, including call and text data, and video recordings from the Adolph Rose Antiques building, where she rented living space. Lawyers for the city contend the information contains calls between Winfield and clients for his legal services, which they deem irrelevant to the case, and that the request isn’t specific enough to the time during which Burks held the chief of staff job.

“Under no circumstances should Plaintiff be allowed to conduct a fishing expedition through Mayor Winfield’s phone under the auspices of establishing phone records verifying her alleged relationship with Mayor Winfield,” states a motion for a protective order filed by Jackson attorneys Gary Friedman and Saundra Strong of the Phelps Dunbar firm, hired by the city this month.

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Separately, Michael Winfield, the mayor’s brother and personal attorney, filed a motion to quash the subpoena to AT&T which raised concerns over privacy.

“Plaintiff is not entitled to go on a ‘fishing expedition’ to try to find private, personal and confidential information about Mayor Winfield,” the motion states.

In its own brief, the city’s hired firm says phone communication between the mayor and his legal clients “is not necessarily privileged” but “certainly should not be provided to Plaintiff in discovery where there has been and can be no showing of relevance.”

Burks filed suit against the city Feb. 1 alleging she faced a hostile work environment, sex discrimination and retaliation due to a consensual sexual relationship with Winfield. Burks seeks damages under federal civil rights and constitutional law.