The Berkeley County School Board wants to know if it should continue paying the legal fees for indicted district Communications Director Amy Kovach, which have topped more than $40,000 so far.
In all, the district has spent $127,687 on the ongoing investigation into the 2012 Yes 4 Schools campaign, according to figures provided Thursday by Childs & Halligan lawyer Kathy Mahoney in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Post and Courier. The bond referendum raised $198 million to build and renovate schools.
Kovach was indicted Feb. 11 on one count of "Violation of Ethics Act: Use of Public Funds to Influence the Outcome of an Election," a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 or one year in prison. She is on paid leave from the district.
"I begrudge that the taxpayers have to foot the bill for this," said lawyer Josh Whitley, one of the people who made the original complaint to the state Attorney General's Office about what he thought were improprieties during the campaign. "It's a misuse of public funds."
As of Thursday, Kovach has been reimbursed $40,073 for the services of attorney Jerry Theos; Deputy Superintendent Archie Franchini has been reimbursed $30,000 for attorney Debbie Barbier; and Childs & Halligan has been paid $57,614 for "referendum investigation."
Additionally, in February the district settled for $65,000 a lawsuit that centered on a claim by former board member Terry Hardesty over his not being allowed to address the investigation during public comments at board meetings.
The fees will continue to climb. Superintendent Rodney Thompson, also a target of the investigation, has not been reimbursed for any fees, nor has his attorney, Joe Griffith, been paid, according to Mahoney.
In addition, the board voted Tuesday to hire former Circuit Judge Vic Rawl to determine whether Kovach acted in good faith when she was working on the campaign "and, if so, whether (Kovach's) indictment precludes the district from providing her with legal representation."
But Rawl, who said his standard fee is $250 per hour, said Thursday he is not sure if he will take the job.
"I've not really taken on the project yet," he said. "I have not yet discussed with them the parameters of what they are expecting me to do. What I can tell you at this point in time is that they have reached out and they have asked me to do something (but) I could wind up not doing it. There's no question about that."
By law, the district has an obligation to provide legal representation for employees when they are acting in good faith in the course of their employment, board Vice Chairman Shannon Lee said Tuesday.
The board voted last March to pay for lawyers for the trio, and in April became aware of a 1997 attorney general's opinion that "a school district is without authority to pay a school board member's or an employee's expenses of representation in a criminal proceeding." Attorney general's opinions don't carry the weight of law, but are based on interpretation of the law.
Residents also also questioned the board several times in public forums about the decision to foot the bills. Most recently, Summerville resident Jeff Reuer asked Feb. 4 how the district plans to recoup the money.
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.
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