This week, the Summerfield Town Council voted 4 to 1 to retain attorney Gray Wilson, with the Winston-Salem firm of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, to defend the town as well as Town Councilmember Dianne Laughlin – who’s being sued by former Summerfield Town Councilmember Todd Rotruck over the seat that Rotruck lost and Laughlin now occupies.
In April 2018, the Guilford County Board of Elections determined that, for voting purposes, Rotruck didn’t live in Summerfield but instead lived in Greensboro. The challenge brought against him by a Summerfield resident had questioned his right to vote in that town and, though it didn’t address his right to be a Town Council member, state law holds that anyone who doesn’t live in a city or town cannot serve on the city council or the town council.
In October, the Summerfield Town Council named Laughlin to fill the vacant seat despite the fact that Rotruck was continuing his legal battle with an appeal to the NC Court of Appeals.
Just after the start of the New Year, Rotruck, after obtaining authorization from the NC Attorney General’s office, filed a lawsuit that would remove Laughlin from the seat and put him back on the council while his appeal was being heard.
At the first Summerfield Town Council Meeting of the year, on Tuesday, Jan. 8, Town Councilmembers Reece Walker, John O’Day, Dena Barnes and Laughlin voted to hire Wilson to defend against the suit.
Councilmember Teresa Pegram was the sole no vote.
Summerfield Mayor Gail Dunham can only vote in the case of a tie, however, Dunham joined Pegram in criticizing the move.
Pegram noted that the suit wasn’t against Summerfield but against Laughlin. She also pointed out that when Rotruck’s position on the council was challenged, the town didn’t vote to fund his defense.
Dunham railed against the high attorney fees the town has been paying over the past 10 months. Summerfield doesn’t have a large budget to begin with and, in 2018, legal bills ate up a significant part of that small town’s budget.
Rotruck wasn’t at the Town Council meeting but he did watch a video of the discussion.
“Why did Dianne not recuse herself?” he asked.
Rotruck said this is obviously a case where Laughlin should not have voted because she had a financial interest in two ways: One, she benefited from not having to hire an attorney at her own expense and, two, she gets paid to serve on the Town Council.
Rotruck also said this week that the fact that the Town Council is jumping to the defense of Laughlin and defending her seat when the same council did nothing to help him retain his, makes it clear that, from the very beginning, some members of the council had it out to get him.
“It all goes back to what I’ve been saying all along,” Rotruck said.