Former Berkeley School board member settles free-speech suit against chairman
A former Berkeley County School Board member has settled for an undisclosed amount his First Amendment lawsuit against the board's chairman.
Neither Terry Hardesty, who served on the board from 2006 to 2010, nor his lawyer, Josh Whitley, would discuss the amount because the details have not been finalized.
"I will say this, two months ago they could have apologized and paid $10,000 in attorney's fees to settle this," said Hardesty. "I agreed to accept that then but they wouldn't do it."
Whitley said the settlement is "substantially" higher.
Board Chairman Kent Murray said he heard about the settlement late Friday and also could not comment on the details.
"I was made aware that Andy Halio, the attorney assigned by the school district's insurance carrier, has negotiated a settlement of this case," he said. "It would be premature for me to discuss the terms of the settlement since Mr. Halio is handling the settlement on behalf of the insurance carrier and the settlement documents have not been finalized. I understand that it is the insurance carrier's prerogative to resolve this case."
The settlement avoids depositions for Superintendent Rodney Thompson and Communications Director Amy Kovach, who were scheduled to be questioned on Monday. In early January, Thompson and Kovach said the subpoenas for their depositions were an attempt to "harass and annoy" them and that, if deposed, they would be forced to invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
The suit was filed in June by Hardesty, Linda Riney and Nancy Corbin against Murray, individually and in his official capacity, for violations of First and 14th Amendment rights, claiming Murray unilaterally changed the board's "Public Participation in Board Meetings" policy without a vote or notice, in violation of the state Freedom of Information Act.
The policy was amended before the June 11 meeting to ban comments about the State Law Enforcement Division's investigation into alleged ethics violations during 2012's $198 million Yes 4 Schools campaign because the investigation "is ongoing and confidential, and because matters connected to the investigation may come before the Board for action."
Thompson, Kovach and Deputy Superintendent Archie Franchini are at the center of that investigation, which is still ongoing.
Murray said altering the card was "within my discretion and is consistent with district policy and law."
Hardesty's planned comments June 11, when he was stopped from talking, "did not run afoul of the past policy," but Murray "gaveled him down, embarrassed him, and personally would not let him proceed with his public remarks," according to the suit.
Riney and Corbin, who also spoke that night, were dismissed from the suit in October.
On advice of its lawyers, Childs & Halligan, the district in September removed the line banning talk about the investigation.
On Saturday, Hardesty said he was satisfied with the outcome.
"Our purpose in bringing this lawsuit was to make sure the citizens of Berkeley County could speak freely, and to deter the school board chairman from ignoring our Constitutional rights," he said. "With the policy change and this settlement, we have achieved that purpose 100 percent."
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.