Berkeley County taxpayers so far have spent $30,000 — almost the salary of a rookie teacher — to defend three school district employees in an ethics probe of November’s bond referendum campaign.
“So far they’ve cost the district enough money to pay a first-year teacher, and I’d like to know how many more teachers are going to be lost to something that the district should not have done to start with,” said former board member Terry Hardesty, who with others has criticized the district’s handling of the referendum to build and renovate schools.
The expense covers retainers for two of the three lawyers involved in the ongoing case but does not include any hourly fees or other expenses. The figure is current as of Wednesday.
At the employees’ request, the board in March voted unanimously to pay “reasonable and customary legal fees and expenses.” The district has maintained that the employees acted in “good faith.”
No employees have been named in the investigation, but Superintendent Rodney Thompson, Deputy Superintendent Archie Franchini and Communications Director Amy Kovach have been connected to the case.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act Request from The Post and Courier, the district named attorneys Debbie Barbier, Joe Griffith and Jerry Theos as representing the employees but declined to identify who each represents.
Lawyer Kathy Mahoney of Childs & Halligan, which represents the district, said to date, the only public information regarding the investigation is a Jan. 17 letter from the Attorney General’s Office asking the State Law Enforcement Division and State Ethics Commission to investigate “numerous violations” of the Ethics Act and other potential misconduct. Daniel Island lawyer Josh Whitley filed a complaint with the attorney general alleging the employees used district time and resources in the “Yes 4 Schools” campaign.
“(I)t would not be appropriate for the District to release any information regarding the investigation, including the names of any individual from whom the investigators are seeking information,” Mahoney wrote.
The district has reimbursed $15,000 to Franchini for a retainer to Barbier and an identical amount to Kovach for Theos’ retainer, according to the letter. No fees have been paid to Griffith.
Barbier is a former federal prosecutor who “prosecuted high profile multi-million dollar fraud cases” and “led a major fight against public corruption,” according to her web page. In private practice in Columbia since 2011, she has focused on federal and state criminal defense, False Claims Act actions and business litigation.
Theos, a criminal, civil and domestic law trial lawyer, is a partner in the Charleston-based law firm of Uricchio, Howe, Krell, Jacobson, Toporek, Theos & Keith. He is a former deputy public defender for Charleston County and has been in private practice since 1985.
Griffith, also a former federal prosecutor, runs a private practice in Charleston “devoted exclusively to litigation, with a concentrated focus on federal white collar criminal defense, as well as select personal injury and business injury claims,” according to his web page.
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or facebook.com/brindge
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