Council Members Hit With Lawsuit

Dispute over Insurance Payouts Headed for Court

WINNSBORO – When the S.C. Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion last July that characterized as unconstitutional cash payouts to three County Council members to cover supplemental health insurance premiums, the opinion stated that a court of law would, ultimately, have to decide if those payouts were indeed illegal. More than three months later, it appears as if that opinion will be put to the test, as a Winnsboro attorney filed lawsuits last week against the three Fairfield County Council members in an effort to recoup that money.

Attorney Jonathan M. Goode, of the Goode Law Firm in Winnsboro, filed the documents Oct. 25 in the Fairfield County Clerk of Court’s Office against Council Chairman David Ferguson (District 5), Mikel Trapp (District 3) and Mary Lynn Kinley (District 7), representing State Rep. MaryGail Douglas (D-41) and 15 others as plaintiffs. Goode is seeking a non-jury trial in the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court of Common Pleas.

Since 2009, Ferguson, Trapp and Kinley were receiving $475 a month from the County to cover their own supplemental hospitalization insurance. That practice ended last July after the S.C. Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion characterizing the payouts as “unauthorized” and “a departure from the law.”

Covered by a state plan for their primary health insurance, Ferguson, Trapp and Kinley were therefore not eligible for the County’s supplemental coverage. Prior to 2009, these Council members, along with all part-time employees, were covered for hospitalization by the Carolina Cares plan. For each of the Council members in question, it was costing the County approximately $877 a month – or $31,560 a year total – to include them on the Carolina Cares plan. As the County worked through attrition to wean part-time employees from the plan, the three Council members were also asked to drop the plan and take a direct payout of $475 a month each – or $17,100 a year total – to get their own hospitalization insurance.

While Ferguson and Trapp declined to comment on the case, Kinley said she has a clean conscious and that the money was not misused, as Goode’s claim asserts.

“I still feel in my heart that we’ve done nothing wrong,” Kinley said. “Most of us have receipts. I think I can verify everything. I keep very good records. I think I have receipts that verify that (supplemental health insurance) is what that money was used for.”

Goode is pursuing two causes of action against the Council members: Unjust enrichment/abuse of trust, and Conversion. In the first cause, Goode claims that each of the three Council members violated state law as set forth in the Attorney General’s opinion, and as a result “wrongly received monies to which (they were) not legally entitled,” the complaint states. In the second cause of action, Goode claims the Council members “did convert said monies to (their) own use, which is a misuse of the Defendant’s authority.”

Goode is seeking actual damages, “including, but not limited to, reimbursement of all monies wrongfully paid” to the Council members, as well as “interest on said monies, costs and attorney fees,” the complaint states.

“Our goal is to get any money that has been improperly spent returned back into the general fund,” Goode said. “The Attorney General’s opinion speaks for itself. People are mad and this sends a message to elected officials that there are some taxpayers who will stand up to them when they feel money is being spent improperly.”

Also listed as plaintiffs are: E. Scott Frazier Bell, Carole J. Gehret, Stephen Gehret, Tangee Brice Jacobs, Elizabeth A. Jenkins, Helen Johnson, Vernon J. Pylant, Margaret Richardson, Thomas Richardson, Jeffrey Schaffer, Barry R. Tuttle, Clyde E. Wade, Michael B. Ward, Patricia A. Williams and Thomas L. Williams.

No trial date had been set as of press time.