Legal defense of district’s referendum costs $80,000 so far

  • Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Kovach

Berkeley County School District has paid nearly $80,000 in defense of three employees targeted in an election ethics investigation.

The numbers were released to the newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act. They show that $30,000 has been paid to attorney Debbie Barbier and $48,385.81 has been paid to attorney Jerry Theos.

The expenditures have occurred since the state Attorney General’s office has begun its investigation and includes the time since Communication Director Amy Kovach’s indictment Feb. 11 through March 13, according to Berkeley County School District spokeswoman Susan Haire.

Kovach was indicted by a Berkeley County grand jury 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, according to J. Mark Powell, spokesman for the state Attorney General’s office. The investigation stems from the successful Yes4Schools campaign, which passed in November 2012. The bond referendum raises $198 million via taxes for building and renovating schools in the district.

District Superintendent Rodney Thompson and Deputy Superintendent Archie Franchini also were targets of the SLED investigation. Attorney General Alan Wilson requested the investigation in January 2013 after former school board member and GOP chair Terry Hardesty and others compiled information they said showed that the district staff worked on the campaign during district time and used district resources, which is prohibited by law. No further indictments have been issued as of deadline for this publication.

Since the indictment, Kovach has been placed on administrative leave with pay.

According to a statement by the school board in February, the district must pay Kovach’s legal fees for now.

“By law, the district has an obligation to provide legal representation to its employees, when they are acting in good faith in the course of their employment,” board Vice Chair Shannon Lee said.

During a February school board meeting, the board voted 6-0, with two members absent, to seek the opinion of a former judge to determine whether or not the district should continue to provide counsel for Kovach. During March’s meeting Lee said she is not sure when the judge will reach an opinion Updated 11:15 a.m. March 26 to clarify the timeframe of legal expenses. The original article said the expenses began in February. However, the expenses began with the initial investigation and have continued since Kovach’s indictment.

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