Former Berkeley GOP head files counterclaim in Kovach lawsuit

Amy Kovach, the former communications director for Berkeley County School District, waits for her name to be called in Berkeley County Court in Berkeley County Court in April 2014. Kovach later pleaded guilty to two ethics violations and is now suing the school district and the Berkeley County Republican Party.

Another legal salvo was fired in the aftermath of the 2012 Yes 4 Schools construction bond referendum as former Berkeley County Republican Party Chairman Josh Whitley filed a counterclaim in Berkeley County Court against the former school district spokeswoman.

Amy Kovach pleaded guilty Aug. 28 to misconduct and using public funds to influence an election. Email records surfaced showing that she told people “Vote Yes” campaign signs would be available in a school office and helped set up a promotional video for the referendum in which students were instructed to say “Yes For Schools.” On Oct. 14, Kovach filed a lawsuit against the district and several former leaders in the Berkeley County Republican Party alleging breach of contract, negligence and civil conspiracy.

Whitley, who is named as a defendant in Kovach’s lawsuit, repeatedly refers to Kovach in his counterclaim as a “convicted criminal,” names former district Superintendent Rodney Thompson as a co-defendant, and seeks damages from both Kovach and Thompson for defamation and conspiracy.

Before the 2012 bond referendum, Whitley helped lead a group called Berkeley Citizens for Sustainable Education that was critical of district employees’ involvement in promoting a yes vote on the referendum. Whitley wrote in the counterclaim that Kovach and Thompson defamed him by calling The Post and Courier two nights before the 2012 election with a tip that he failed to file a statement of political organization with the state for BCSE — despite the fact that, as reported in the resulting newspaper story, a State Ethics Commission employee told Whitley he wasn’t required to file such a statement.

Whitley is also seeking court orders to dismiss Kovach’s complaint; to sanction Kovach’s attorney, Nancy Bloodgood, for filing a frivolous lawsuit; and to have Kovach reimburse the county for $303,000 worth of wages and attorney fees that the district paid while she was on leave during the ethics investigation. He also denied Kovach’s claims that his mother, district employee Karen Whitley, and brother-in-law, former school board member Scott Marino, had a “vendetta” against Kovach and Thompson. The district recently named Karen Whitley principal of the new Philip Simmons Elementary School, which is set to open in fall 2016.

Bloodgood said she had no comment on the case.

The S.C. Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted Kovach’s criminal case, also recently weighed in on Kovach’s lawsuit.

In an Oct. 29 letter to Judge Jeffrey Young, who heard Kovach’s guilty plea on the ethics violations, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Creighton Waters wrote that Kovach “spent a large portion of her complaint falsely accusing SLED and the Attorney General’s Office of manufacturing evidence or making false statements during the plea about matters to which she repeatedly admitted guilt under oath before this Court.”

Kovach claimed in her lawsuit that Whitley called a friend in the S.C. Attorney General’s Office, leading to the ethics investigation against her, but Whitley said in the counterclaim that he “vehemently denies” the claim.

Reach Paul Bowers at (843) 937-5546 or twitter.com/paul_bowers.

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