Winfield files to keep phone records out of lawsuit

Published 11:15 pm Friday, June 15, 2012

Lawyers for Mayor Paul Winfield are asking a federal court to keep his cell phone records out of former chief of staff’s sexual harassment lawsuit.

The request paired with lockstep denials filed Thursday and Friday by Winfield and the city aimed at the heart of Kenya Burks’ case filed in February alleging her job with the administration ended due to retaliation over a consensual sexual relationship gone bust.

Calls and texts between July 1, 2009 and April 18, 2011 were ruled admissible earlier this month by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. The court said the presentation should take place for “in camera review,” or a closed session of the court.

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Winfield’s legal team, headed by Jackson-based attorney Vikki J. Taylor since shortly after the first-term mayor was added to the suit in April, argued in its latest motion that Burks’ claim the records may contain details regarding the decision to eliminate her position is flawed because its based not on specific conversations but sheer frequency.

“This argument is blatantly disingenuous,” read part of the mayor’s motion for reconsideration.

Burks has claimed the records could show Winfield had at least two extramarital affairs and show a pattern of adulterous behavior.

A case management conference by phone is set for Aug. 1 between both parties and U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Roper.

Claims dockets for February and March don’t show any entries for Gary Friedman, chosen to represent the city in the case by its insurance carrier, or for his employer, Jackson law firm Phelps Dunbar.

When reached Friday, Winfield said that cost is rolled into the city’s insurance costs and no city money will be used to pay Taylor.

“I can’t speak to insurance premiums, but we’ve already paid it,” he said.

Burks alleged in a suit filed in February against the city that she was subjected to a hostile work environment and retaliation because of a consensual sexual relationship with Winfield, 38. In April, Burks, 38, added Winfield individually as a defendant, and alleged job benefits were tied to giving in to unwelcome sexual advances. Winfield has denied the claims of sexual relations.

The city denied claims that Winfield became physically abusive after she tried to end the relationship and Burks’ claim that her position was eliminated because she did not initially accept $9,701.59 in back overtime pay. In a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission four days after the board nixed her job, Burks said the back pay amounted to a bribe.

Amended defenses this week from the city and Winfield denied nearly all of the details of her job ending and the alleged relationship, in disagreement only on her current address. The city said it had insufficient information to admit Burks was an adult female citizen of Warren County who lives at 717 Clay St. Burks, a Lake Providence native, had rented a room at the address which also houses Adolph Rose Antiques, until about mid-2011. A Facebook page had listed Southlake, Texas, as her home at the time the suit was filed.

Subpoenas issued in February to AT&T and C Spire Wireless, formerly Cellular South, had compelled the two companies to turn over call and text data from 2009 to 2011, with no time frame specified. The court’s order put in the time element, which covers a period two days before Winfield was inaugurated publicly to the day Burks’ $72,000-a-year position was eliminated by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

Burks was hired as Winfield’s chief of staff on July 24, 2009, when she was hired on a 2-1 vote on the city board, with South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman dissenting. Beauman and North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield formed a 2-0 majority that nixed the chief of staff position in 2011, with Winfield abstaining.