Attorney Quits Garrison Lawsuit

BLYTHEWOOD – New developments have cropped up in a $10 million lawsuit that was filed in December by South Capital Group, LLC against the Town of Blythewood, Councilman Ed Garrison and two partnerships (Crescent Hills Partners, LLC and Crescent Partners SRES, LLC), which the complaint alleges were formed by Garrison about April 13, 2009, either individually or with others. The complaint also named John Does 1 through 10 who purportedly participated with Garrison and the two LLC partnerships to harm South Capital, LLC.

On Jan. 3, Columbia attorney Robert B. Lewis filed a motion in U. S. District Court asking to be relieved as counsel for the two partnership defendants. In the motion, Lewis stated that the partnership defendants, whose managing member he identified as Garrison, had failed to pay any fees or for any costs incurred for his representation of them in the case.

Lewis said the partnership defendants had also failed to respond to two previous requests (letters dated June 14 and Oct. 29, 2012) in which he asked Garrison to be relieved from representing them.

While the legal fees of the Town of Blythewood and Garrison (in his capacity as a Council member) are covered to an as yet undetermined extent by the state insurance reserve fund, which insures government entities in South Carolina, an employee at the State Board of Budget and Control, who asked not to be identified, said the two partnership defendants are likely not covered by the reserve fund since they are private entities.

In the letter to Garrison, dated June 14, 2012, Lewis wrote that he had agreed to reduce his hourly rate on the case substantially, but that “even with the fee reduction, the fees are in the $4,000 range and we have just started the discovery process.”

In another letter dated Oct. 29, Lewis asked Garrison to sign a consent form on behalf of the partnership defendants, agreeing to release Lewis as counsel. Lewis stated in his Jan. 3 motion for relief that there was no response to his letter.

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of civil conspiracy, tortious interference with a contract and negligence in regard to a 142.95-acre property that was owned by South Capital Group, LLC and commonly referred to as Red Gate Farms.

The property is located on the west side of Blythewood Road between Muller and Syrup Mill roads.

At issue is the involvement of Garrison and the town government with the property from the time it was annexed into the Town on Nov. 24, 2008 until South Capital Group, LLC filed for bankruptcy on the property. An article published in The State newspaper on July 6, 2010 disclosed that the property had been in Bankruptcy Court under a Chapter 11 proceeding for more than a year.

The property was annexed into the Town with a Richland County zoning designation of Planned Development District (PDD.) In early February 2010, two years after the annexation, Town Administrator John Perry placed a zoning request on the Planning Commission’s agenda calling for Rural (RU) zoning on the property. Based on information supplied to them by Perry during a public meeting, the Planning Commission recommended RU zoning to Town Council. The property owners were not present at the meeting.

On Feb. 22, 2010, Town Council unanimously passed the first of two required readings to zone the property RU.

At that meeting, a member of the audience asked Councilman Garrison whether he should recuse himself from voting on the zoning request. The question concerned whether Garrison, a developer and real estate agent, was involved with securing financing to purchase and develop the property. Garrison indicated he had no financial involvement with the property and voted for the RU zoning, which was finalized by a second vote by Council on March 29, 2010.

At a special called meeting of Council on May 3, 2010, the Town’s attorney at that time, Lee Zimmerman (McNair Law Firm), told Council that he had been contacted by the attorneys for South Capital Group, LLC, who asked that the Town Council rescind Ordinance 10.0007 that called for final zoning of RU on the Red Gate Farms property. Zimmerman told council members that the principals of South Capital Group, LLC , David Hillburn and George Delk, said they had not been informed the property was going to be rezoned to RU.

Council voted 4-0 at that meeting to rescind the ordinance and refer it back to the Planning Commission for review and recommendation. Council ultimately zoned the property for a more restrictive Planned Development (PD) zoning designation on Sept. 27, 2010.

On Jan. 11, the case was reassigned to Judge Terry L. Wooten for trial in Federal Court. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Aug. 26, 2013.