Black gives partial legal update

Judge Allows MPA to Depose Burnett and Franklin

BLYTHEWOOD – During Monday night’s town council meeting, the Town’s outside attorney David Black, with Maynard Nexsen law firm, came before council to give an update on a motions hearing that occurred on Aug 9, concerning the 2-1/2 year legal wrangling between the Town and MPA Strategies. The issue involves a Freedom of Information lawsuit brought by MPA Strategies against the Town and a countersuit brought by the Town.

But Black’s update to council was only a partial update, covering only the motion rulings that favored the Town. Black did not divulge a ruling by Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman that ruled in favor of MPA Strategies. He did not mention the judges’ ruling that Shannon Burnett, another of the Town’s outside attorneys, as well as Mayor Bryan Franklin, would have to submit to a deposition by MPA Strategies’ attorneys.

The only findings that Black disclosed to council were that the Judge denied MPA’s motion to strike the Town’s counterclaim, allowing it to go forward to trial. He also denied MPA’s claim for summary judgement.

“We are very disappointed with that ruling,” Paul Porter, attorney for MPA, told The Voice. “How ever, it’s very hard to get a case thrown out before the trial,” he said. “That’s by design to ensure open access to the Courts. I don’t think it’s a testament to any flaws in our argument. If there is a legal basis for any of the complaints [in the countersuit], I haven’t seen it.

“For instance,” he said, “starting with the Federal False Claims cause, you can’t file that claim in state court. There’s a way you have to file it and they didn’t file it the correct way. Plus, federal money must be involved to file this claim and no federal money is involved.”

Porter also said that Judge Newman denied a motion filed by the Town that would prevent MPA from deposing Town Attorney Shannon Burnett. MPA has tried unsuccessfully for months to depose Burnett, according to court records. The judge’s denial of the Town’s motion allows MPA to go forward with Burnett’s and Franklin’s depositions.

The Town accused MPA of spoliation (destruction) of documents and asked the Judge for sanctions against MPA.

“The judge made a ruling that Ms. Hunter should be sanctioned and that’s for discovery abuse,” Black told council. ”That means that at trial, we’ll be making a motion to recoup our legal fees as well as a motion to compel the costs of these actions.”

Black said Monday night that he would have an order entered for that shortly from Judge Newman.

Porter took a different view of the ruling.

“While Judge Newman did find that MPA had engaged in spoliation, and that he felt there should be some kind of sanction for that,” Porter said, “he left it for the trial judge to determine the facts concerning the issue and to make any decision concerning sanctions at that time.

“It’s a unique situation,” Porter continued. “She [Ashley Hunter, CEO and owner of MPA] had a pre-existing retention policy for her text messages, so she unequivocally denies that she destroyed any evidence and believes no relevant discernable documents were destroyed. We’re looking forward to filing a Motion to Reconsider in order to preserve this issue for appeal.”

“Today’s rulings are a meaningful step forward in progressing this case,” Franklin said in a prepared statement following the Aug. 9, motions hearing. “I thank the Blythewood citizens for their patience and continued support in seeing that justice prevails for our Town.”

Porter also issued a statement.

“We are glad to get to take depositions and get this case moving. We look forward to all the facts related to this issue coming to light,” he said, “and when they do come to light, I think it will be apparent that there’s not much to this issue.”

MPA Strategies is a marketing company the Town contracted with in April, 2021, to promote and write grants for the Town and terminated less than three months later.

The motions hearing did not include a second lawsuit brought by MPA Strategies against the Town, Franklin, The Country Chronicle newspaper, the newspaper’s editor Tanya Page and Camden media which was formerly part of a partnership that owned the Country Chronicle.

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