School district’s le­gal fight with ex-board mem­ber ends

The State - - Front Page - BY IS­ABELLA CUETO icueto@thes­tate.com

A years­long le­gal dis­pute be­tween Lex­ing­ton-Rich­land 5 school district and for­mer school board mem­ber Kim Mur­phy that was set to go to trial next month came to an end last week, ac­cord­ing to court fil­ings.

Both sides agreed on April 29 to drop the case us­ing a South Carolina courts rule that strikes the dis­pute from the court docket, but al­lows ei­ther side to re­in­state the case at any time within a year. That means a jury won’t have to de­cide whether Mur­phy owes the school district $10 mil­lion, and that both sides can ten­ta­tively put to bed a lengthy, costly and con­tentious string of court bat­tles.

Mur­phy and her at­tor­ney, Paul Porter, de­clined to com­ment on the agree­ment. The State reached out to Lex­ing­tonRich­land 5’s at­tor­ney on Mon­day morn­ing.

In early 2019, Mur­phy and the district en­tered me­di­a­tion in an at­tempt to re­solve the suit, but were ul­ti­mately un­able to agree on an out­come. In April 2019, the Lex­ing­ton-Rich­land 5 school board voted unan­i­mously to set­tle the 7-year-old le­gal bat­tle.

If Mur­phy ac­cepted the of­fer, the school district said it would drop le­gal claims against her al­leg­ing she cost tax­pay­ers mil­lions for de­lay­ing a con­struc­tion project. She would have had to agree to not file any le­gal ac­tion against Lex­ing­ton-Rich­land 5 with­out fol­low­ing cer­tain pro­ce­dures — among them, get­ting per­mis­sion from the court and no­ti­fy­ing the district of her in­tent to file. If Mur­phy ac­cepted the set­tle­ment but did not fol­low the rules, the court could have or­dered her to pay $2 mil­lion, plus in­ter­est and fees.

Lex­ing­ton-Rich­land 5 had to “hold Ms. Mur­phy ac­count­able for the con­se­quences of her abu­sive ap­peals and law­suits in pur­suit of her per­sonal in­ter­ests,” the school district’s at­tor­ney, John Rea­gle, said at the time, ac­cord

ing to a news re­lease.

Porter called board mem­bers and their of­fer “out of touch,” adding “they have more pride than sense.” Mur­phy de­clined to set­tle on those terms.

In Jan­uary, a judge de­nied both sides’ mo­tions to have the case de­cided in their fa­vor as a mat­ter of law, ac­cord­ing to Porter. The court in­stead set a trial for June 8 to de­cide the mat­ter, Porter said in a Jan­uary email to The State.

The le­gal dis­pute, one of sev­eral be­tween Mur­phy and the district dur­ing the last decade, stems from an ap­peal she filed in cir­cuit court in 2013 af­ter the school board voted to re­move her from of­fice. She was ousted by fel­low board mem­bers who de­ter­mined that while she was elected to one of the board’s Rich­land County seats, she ac­tu­ally lived in Lex­ing­ton County.

The district filed a re­sponse to her ap­peal that said the board acted ap­pro­pri­ately. The district also filed a coun­ter­claim that said de­lays caused by Mur­phy’s pub­lic op­po­si­tion had in­creased the cost of the Chapin High School ex­pan­sion by more than $10 mil­lion. The coun­ter­claim asked the court to or­der Mur­phy to pay back the money.

Mur­phy lost the court bat­tle over her re­moval from the board, but the $10 mil­lion ques­tion lin­gered.

The school district ar­gued that Mur­phy cost tax­pay­ers mil­lions of dol­lars over the years, start­ing with her pub­lic cam­paign against the build­ing plans that called for fill­ing 727 feet of a creek and a piece of wet­lands near Chapin High School. Mur­phy said the project would hurt the en­vi­ron­ment, and she sought to chal­lenge the district’s per­mits for the con­struc­tion.

“I’m con­cerned about our ecosys­tem and wa­ter qual­ity, but I’m also con­cerned about the prac­tice of con­struct­ing sports fields in a wet­lands area when there are sites on the Chapin High School par­cel that are more suit­able and much less costly to de­velop,” Mur­phy told The State in 2011.

The district said it fol­lowed the proper pro­to­cols and re­ceived ap­proval from the state Depart­ment of Health and En­vi­ron­men­tal Con­trol for the project. On July 13, 2010, Mur­phy filed a claim against DHEC over the per­mits.

A month later, she filed to run for a Rich­land County seat on the school board. In Novem­ber 2010, she was elected to the board. Later that year, a non­profit was formed to sue Mur­phy for de­lay­ing the project and breach­ing her du­ties as a board mem­ber. She was later ousted.

Lex­ing­ton-Rich­land 5 has said it de­ter­mined that Mur­phy owed more than $10 mil­lion be­cause of in­creased de­sign and con­struc­tion costs, plus at­tor­ney’s fees. In le­gal fil­ings, the district ar­gued that Mur­phy tried to de­lay the Chapin High project to ap­pease her po­lit­i­cal al­lies. She says she has al­ways fought for the good of the stu­dents and fam­i­lies in the district — not for per­sonal gain.

Kim Mur­phy

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