Testy exchange breaks out in courtroom one day after SE Bullitt - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Testy exchange breaks out in courtroom one day after SE Bullitt Fire Chief resigns

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Former SE Bullitt Fire Chief Julius Hatfield, confronted by WDRB's Valerie Chinn in November 2014. Former SE Bullitt Fire Chief Julius Hatfield, confronted by WDRB's Valerie Chinn in November 2014.
SHEPHERDSVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- SE Bullitt Fire Chief Julius Hatfield is out, but the firefight over the future of the Southeast Bullitt Fire Department rages on -- and there is still controversy even after the embattled chief submitted a resignation letter.

Even as the three-hour hearing began, a testy exchange broke out.

"Shut up Clay," said SE Bullitt Fire Protection attorney Maurice Byrne.

Thomas Clay, the SE Bullitt Fire Department attorney responded, "I told him he's going to get a copy of the contract and he told me to shut up."

"Hold on, hold on, hold on," said Judge Rodney Burress. "It doesn't look like you all agree on anything here."

That's how the hearing started. It was over a lawsuit on whether the Southeast Bullitt Fire Protection District improperly voided a contract with the Fire Department which was hired to provide fire protection service.

"Based on the proceedings today, I'm not optimistic that those communications are going to improve," Clay said. "We couldn't agree on anything. In fact, opposing counsel told me to shut up during the proceedings so I'm not going shut up and I'm going to continue to try and represent the department and they're going to be paying legal fees for me to do that."

The Fire Protection District says it broke its contract with the SE Bullitt Fire Department and advertised for new bids. And when the bid window closed at noon Friday, only SE Bullitt Fire confirms it placed a bid. The fire chiefs at Zoneton and Shepherdsville say they decided against submitting one.

But the fire department attorneys don't believe the contract was even voided. They also say no emergency 60-day contract between the Fire Protection District and the fire department were ever agreed upon.

"Even if we do get back with them with a contract, it will be under different circumstances," said Dan Thibodeaux, a Fire Protection District Board member.

Firefighter and Fire Corporation Board Chairman Tommy Leach says there are big plans without Julius Hatfield in charge. Hatfield submitted a resignation letter effective Feb. 1.

"We're going to increase the men, our paid level," Leach said. "We're probably going to look at building another station. We need to get rid of the two old stations, the surplus stations that are not used."

Leach says it's a new day for SE Bullitt Fire. He says they have a lot of work ahead.

Byrne says over $100,000 in legal fees have been spent and instead should instead be used for fire protection.

Clay represents not only the fire department, but Hatfield too.

"Taxpayer money is used to pay for his defense, for your cost," WDRB's Valerie Chinn said to Clay. "Is that worth it to taxpayers that they are footing the bill for his criminal defense?"

"I'm not sure I can answer that," Clay responded. "I think he was an integral figure in that department for a number of years. The authorization to pay for his defense was enacted through a vote, and as I said before, if there is any question about that propriety about that payment being made to us and somebody raises an issue, if someone in a position to say that payment was inappropriate, then we would certainly pay it back."

Clay, along with the County Attorney, says they're working on a deal so Hatfield would not be prosecuted for insurance fraud, abuse of public trust and other charges at the local level, but they have not reached an agreement. Both say it would have no bearing on any federal investigation. The FBI is not saying when its investigation will be completed.

The hearing ended with more questions than answers about what will happen next.

"Regardless if there is a contract in the lawyers' hands, the fire trucks will go out if there is an emergency," Leach said.

The circuit court judge entered a temporary injunction Friday afternoon that will prevent the district from accepting any bids to provide fire service from another department, according to County Attorney John Wooldridge. 

There is no word on when Judge Burress will make a final decision.

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