MPA files for sanctions against Black

Porter: Black’s Filing Delay Cost Hunter $4,292.21
David Black

BLYTHEWOOD – An attorney for MPA Strategies marketing firm and its owner/CEO Ashley Hunter has filed a motion in Court for sanctions against The Town of Blythewood’s former outside attorney David Black, a partner in Maynard Nexsen law firm in Columbia.

Attorney Paul Porter, with Cromer, Babb and Porter, has asked the Court to sanction Black for two reasons: 1) because of a Motion to Transfer that Black filed on Dec. 8, 2023, and 2) because of Black’s conduct associated with that motion thereafter, according to Porter’s Feb. 16, 2024, filing.

Motion to Transfer

Black filed the Motion to Transfer just weeks after Blythewood voters elected a new mayor and council who had made it known before the election that they were not in favor of continuing with the MPA lawsuits and the inherent costs and fees of those lawsuits.

With the Motion to Transfer, Black was asking the Court to transfer the [MPA] cases to a special master who would oversee them. Black claimed this was necessary because there were conflicts of interest of Town Council members adverse to the Town’s interests in the litigation, according to the Feb. 16 filing.

“What this meant,” Porter wrote, “was that Black did not agree with directives his client (the Town) made to him about settling this vexatious and costly litigation. Put another way, Black wanted this case assigned to a special master so he [would] not have to abide by the wishes of Blythewood’s democratically elected mayor and council.”

Black’s Conduct

On Dec. 11, 2023, three days after Black filed the Dec. 8 Motion to Transfer, he (Black) was terminated by Mayor Sloan Griffin via email. The mayor confirmed the termination that same day during a public press conference.

In response to the mayor’s Dec. 11, 2023 termination letter, Black sent a letter on Dec. 13, 2023, saying he disagreed that the mayor had the authority to terminate him, but said he (Black) and his firm would “file a motion to withdraw as counsel of record from the MPA litigation due to the Town’s failure to follow legal advice,” according to Porter’s Feb. 16 filing.

“Contrary to what he said in the letter that he would do, Black refused to withdraw from the MPA cases until 44 days later, at 3:35 p.m. on Jan. 24, 2024, the day before the Court was scheduled to hear the Motion to Transfer,” according to Porter’s Feb. 16 filing.

By refusing to officially withdraw from the lawsuits, Black remained counsel of record for the Town and, in that capacity, also refused Porter’s request that he (Black) file a stipulation of dismissal with the Court to effectuate a Dec. 29, 2023 mutual agreement between MPA and the Town to settle and dismiss the lawsuits between them.

“If this stipulation is not filed today, it may result in serious damages to Ashley Hunter/MPA Strategies, based on a professional recertification she is undergoing before the first of the year,” according to Porter’s filing.

Black responded, “…pursuant to my ethical duty to the Town and its citizens, please understand that I will not be filing the attached stipulation of dismissal. As [I am] the attorney of record in this matter for the Town of Blythewood, you do not have my permission to make the filing.”

“This delay in the filing cost [Ashley Hunter] an additional $4,292.21 in attorney fees to file a Motion to Enforce Settlement and to respond to Black’s Motion to Transfer,” Porter wrote.

According to Porter’s filing last week, this conduct on Black’s part violated Rule 11 and the Rules of Professional Conduct.

“First, counsel [Black] had ‘no good ground to support’ the subject motion [to transfer]. As acknowledged by counsel (Black) in his 12/13/23 letter to the Town of Blythewood, he was ‘specifically instructed and authorized by the mayor during the town council meeting on Dec. 5, 2023’ “to attempt to enter into a global settlement in the MPA litigation.

An Unusual Motion

“Instead of doing what he was directed to do, counsel filed an unusual motion (without consent or consultation) to refer this case to a special master on the implied basis that he wanted to be able to disregard his client’s newly elected leaders’ wishes.

“Second, counsel violated Rule 11, SCRCP because he did not confer with counsel for the plaintiff prior to filing the subject motion or certify that consultation would ‘serve no useful purpose or could not be timely held.’ This is a stated requirement of Rule 11. Defendant’s Motion to Transfer failed to abide by this requirement providing yet another ground for the imposition of Rule 11 sanctions.”

Porter also referenced the following two rules in his Feb. 16 filing:

Rule 1.16 (Declining or Terminating Representation) states that: (a) Except as stated in paragraph (c), a lawyer shall not represent a client … if … (3) the lawyer is discharged.

Rule 1.2 (Scope of Representation and Allocation of Authority between Client and Lawyer) states that: (a) Subject to paragraphs (c) and (d), a lawyer shall abide by a client’s decisions concerning the objectives of representation and as required by Rule 1.4, shall consult with the client as to the means by which they are to be pursued. A lawyer shall abide by a client’s decision whether to make or accept an offer of settlement of a matter.

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