Judge rules on 5 MPA/Town of Blythewood motions

BLYTHEWOOD – There was movement last week in the more than two-year-old legal battle between the Town of Blythewood and MPA Strategies, a marketing company the Town contracted with in April, 2021, and terminated less than three months later.

At issue are a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by MPA against Mayor Bryan Franklin and the Town of Blythewood and a countersuit filed by the Town against MPA.

A public motions hearing was held Aug. 9, via Webex, to resolve motions filed by both MPA and the Town, with both sides ending up with wins and losses. Circuit Court Judge Clifford Newman presided.

The Judge ruled on five of the motions in the order they were filed.

He first 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. “However, 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 that way. Plus, federal money must be involved to file this claim and there is no federal money involved.”

Judge Newman denied a motion filed by the Town that would prevented 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 deposition.

The last two motions filed by the Town were resolved in one ruling – to show cause and to compel.

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

Following the Webex hearing, Mayor Bryan Franklin issued a prepared statement that included the following:

“Importantly, one of the Town’s motions asked the Court to sanction MPA for its continued discovery abuses and destruction of evidence.

“After hearing arguments on behalf of the Town and MPA, Judge Newman agreed with the Town that MPA had failed to comply with rules governing discovery and preservation of evidence, and that sanctions against MPA were warranted,” Franklin said.

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.”

In his statement, Franklin said, “Judge Newman denied motions brought by MPA for summary judgement and to strike the Town’s counterclaims, ruling that the Town’s counterclaims may move forward in the lawsuit.”

“Today’s rulings are a meaningful step forward in progressing this case,” Franklin said. “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.”

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