District 5 Watchdog Facing Legal Action

July 28, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveJust hours after The Nerve detailed alleged legal threats made against Chapin resident Kim Murphy related to her opposition to Lexington/Richland School District 5 expansion, the mother of three received significant legal pushback from the district.

Murphy was served with a subpoena Monday requiring her to appear at a deposition and to turn over documents she plans to use against the district and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. A letter and the accompanying subpoena and discovery requests came from counsel for District 5, Pam Baker, an attorney with the McNair Law Firm.

Murphy, an opponent of many of the district’s decisions regarding expansion and a citizen reporter for The Nerve, had filed suit with the S.C. Administrative Law Court earlier this month seeking to overturn and deny certification for a ball field expansion project at Chapin High School.

Murphy contends that the district has failed to demonstrate that there are no practicable alternatives for the project, which would impact area wetlands. She wants District 5 to consider less costly and less environmentally damaging alternatives for new ball fields.

The district had received initial approval for water-quality certification from the Department of Health and Environmental Control on May 21 after a process stretching over many months.

On Monday The Nerve reported that her attempts to force District 5 to revamp its construction plans had led to what Murphy characterized were legal threats from others in the community.

Murphy even provided The Nerve with a tape of a conversation between herself and Chapin businessman Albert Bueno, recorded in late June by Murphy, in which Bueno sought to give Murphy a “heads up” if she proceeded with an appeal.

“They’ve already raised money,” Bueno tells Murphy in The Nerve. “We’re going to retain an attorney and they’re going to make you get an attorney and make you spend money in order to fight this.”

Bueno, reached by The Nerve last week, denied pressuring Murphy.

Murphy has little time to prepare as the deposition has been scheduled for Aug. 11 at the McNair office in Columbia.

Accompanying the notice of deposition was a subpoena not only for Murphy to appear at the deposition but to produce copies of documents which she plans to use when she presents her case at the hearing before the administrative law judge. In addition, Murphy was served with additional discovery requests.

“They’re doing this as quickly as possible, I guess to try and nip my appeal in the bud,” Murphy said. “They want to find a way out of this as quickly as possible. They want this to go away, and at the same time want to be able to come down on me.”

Baker, who defends state and federal environmental enforcement actions, had little to say about the action.

“I have no comment on the case other than we served basic standard discovery requests,” she said.

The project in question, which seeks to fill 727 feet of creek in order to build additional ball fields, is related to a $243 million bond referendum approved by voters in 2008.

District 5 officials claim that the school’s athletic fields are not adequate given its size, but Murphy and others say the district has failed to demonstrate that there are no practicable alternatives that would avoid or reduce the impact on the creek and wetlands.

“They know there are things going on that aren’t right, that they’re not doing what they promised in the referendum; and they don’t want that to come out,” Murphy said.

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022, ext. 110, or kevin@scpolicycouncil.com.