Ethics attorney bases claim on Town of Blythewood’s accusations

BLYTHEWOOD – Recent court filings claim without evidence that a Blythewood town councilman engaged in self-dealing by helping the town’s former marketing firm land a contract to perform marketing services.

Filed Aug. 3, an opinion-based affidavit from ethics lawyer Nathan Crystal accuses Councilman Donald Brock of seeking to politically benefit by engaging in a quid pro quo with MPA Strategies executive Ashley Hunter.

“In exchange for help from Councilmember Brock in receiving business from the Town, Hunter offered to assist certain council members with future campaign and public office retention services,” the filing states.

Crystal’s filing doesn’t include any supporting evidence to substantiate those claims. The document notes that Town’s legal filings serve as the source of information for his claims made in the affidavit.

“My opinion is based on the allegations of the Answer and Counterclaim of the Town of Blythewood in a related case,” Crystal wrote. “In particular, I note that a number of the allegations on which I rely in this affidavit are based on ‘information and belief.’”

The affidavit is filed in association with a June, 2021 lawsuit MPA Strategies filed against the Town, asserting the Town violated the S.C. Freedom of Information Act by not releasing records sought relating to the delay of MPA’s contract and other matters.

Blythewood countersued, alleging fraud, civil conspiracy, negligence, and other misconduct-related causes of action.

No responses to Crystal’s affidavit’s claims had been filed in Richland County Circuit Court as of press time.

Nevertheless, court filings and the Town’s mayor continue to push the narrative that Brock committed ethical violations.

“The Town has received an opinion from a nationally recognized legal ethics consultant concluding Councilman Brock has breached his ethical duty to the Town of Blythewood concerning the MPA matter,” Mayor Bryan Franklin wrote in a prepared statement he made public June 30, 2023.

Franklin’s statement doesn’t specify the nature of those breaches.

In an email exchange between The Voice and the S.C. Ethics Commission’s Executive Director Meghan Walker Dayson, shortly after Crystal’s “ethics opinion” was first made public at a town council meeting in March, Dayson confirmed that only the S.C. Ethics Commission can determine if an elected official in South Carolina has violated the Ethics Act.

Asked if a ‘lawyer’s opinion that an official has violated the Ethics Act’ is the same thing as a ‘legal ethics opinion,’ Dayson responded in an email, “No.”

Brock produced an email from Dayson confirming that the Commission does not have an open complaint against him.

Crystal’s affidavit cites various claims the Town has made in previously filed court documents, as well as references to various sections of state law.

“Brock’s efforts on behalf of Hunter and MPA violated [state law] because as a public official he used his official position to obtain an economic interest (namely the value of Hunter’s services) for himself,” the filing states. However, Crystal failed to offer any proof to support his statement.

Crystal’s affidavit includes a disclaimer stating his opinions are subject to change.            

“I reserve the right to alter, amend, expand, modify, or change the opinions set forth in this affidavit based on discovery and other developments in this case,” the affidavit states.

Crystal also states in the affidavit that he “understands” that Brock will be added as a counterclaim defendant in the case, but nothing has been filed as of press time.

The affidavit is one of many recently filed court documents in the MPA case and the town’s countersuit.

On Aug. 2, the Town filed various documents seeking to compel discovery, to quash efforts to subpoena town attorney Shannon Burnett and Mayor Franklin for testimony, and to oppose MPA’s motion for summary judgment.

The Town also filed excerpts of a text message between Town Administrator Carroll Williamson and Hunter.

MPA subsequently filed memos supporting summary judgment and opposing the Town’s motion to compel discovery.

The motions were scheduled to be heard Wednesday, Aug. 9, by Judge Clifton Newman, according to the Richland County Public Index.

Contact us: (803) 767-5711 | P.O. Box 675, Blythewood, SC 29016 | [email protected]