Berkeley schools' Amy Kovach asks to have ethics charges dropped

  • Posted: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 2:18 p.m., Updated: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 7:09 p.m.
Amy Kovach

A Berkeley County school official accused in an ongoing state investigation of using public resources and time to campaign for a 2012 ballot measure has asked the court to dismiss the charges.

District Communications Director Amy Kovach was indicted by a Berkeley County grand jury on Feb. 11 on charges of using public funds, property or time to influence the outcome of an election in connection with the $198 million Yes 4 School referendum on building and renovating schools. The charge is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 or one year in prison.

The motion to dismiss the charges was filed May 22.

Kovach, who has been on paid leave from her $78,336-a-year job since being indicted, pleaded not guilty April 10 in General Sessions Court.

The school district is footing the bill for Kovach's independent defense lawyer, Jerry Theos, which as of February had cost taxpayers $48,385. The district has also reimbursed $30,000 to Deputy Superintendent Archie Franchini for his lawyer and paid $57,614 to the district law firm of Childs & Halligan. Superintendent Rodney Thompson is also under investigation and has retained a lawyer, but as of February, had not been reimbursed for expenses.

The Post and Courier filed a state Freedom of Information Act request for updated figures on May 14. The district has 15 business days to respond.

The motion to dismiss the charges argues that state ethics laws bar a "governmental entity" from using public funds or time to influence a ballot measure, and prohibit individuals from doing the same to influence the outcome of an election.

Kovach contends she was improperly charged with influencing a ballot measure, not an election. Since only government entities are barred from influencing a ballot measure, her conduct was permissible, the motion says.

Additionally, the motion argues that Kovach's actions fall under a provision in the law that does not prohibit using public resources in the preparation of newsletters, informational materials, public meetings or in responding to inquiries.

"Stated in another way, her conduct is not in violation of the statute that she is indicted under," Theos said. "There is no question but that she's innocent, but additionally and moreover, she is not in violation of that statute or any law, criminal or otherwise."

The Attorney General's Office would not discuss the case.

"It would be inappropriate to comment at this time on any matters pending before the court," said spokesman Mark Powell.

Josh Whitley, the lawyer who triggered the investigation when he brought concerns regarding the referendum to the state Attorney General's Office in January 2013, said Wednesday, "I continue to have every confidence in the Attorney General's Office in the prosecution of Ms. Kovach. I do agree with Mr. Theos' motion in one regard: Individual Board members were aware of and approved of her conduct. I am hopeful this helps bring more indictments."

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.

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