The ongoing saga of corruption in Berkeley county, South Carolina jumped to a higher energy level this week with the filing of a motion in U.S. district court in Charleston, S.C. – one involving one of the central figures in this still-unfolding narrative.
Josh Whitley – whose firm has been making bank representing the Berkeley county school district over the past four years – is a member of Berkeley county council. His former law partner, Mac McQuillin, is a member of the school board whose firm has been making bank representing … you guessed it, county council.
This cozy arrangement – apparently greased with campaign cash – has drawn scrutiny in the past.
“Our elected officials are directing taxpayer dollars into each other’s pockets in the form of legal fees paid,” one resident complained to The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier in March of 2017. “While all of this may be perfectly legal, it gives the appearance of being perfectly unethical.”
More recently, a grassroots group has emerged to challenge the huge sums Whitley’s law firm is collecting as it ostensibly seeks to “protect” taxpayers in the aftermath of a scandal involving Berkeley’s former chief financial officer, Brantley Thomas.
As we have noted in previous coverage, Whitley’s law firm – Smyth Whitley – pocketed more than half a million dollars from December 2016 through the spring of this year. In June 2019 alone the firm billed district taxpayers more than $50,000.
“Not surprisingly, some in Berkeley county are wondering whether they have traded one fleecing for another,” we noted previously.
Whitley has not taken well to the scrutiny he has received over these payments. In fact, when we last checked in on him back in December he was calling his critics pigs.
Anyway, back to the motion: Submitted by Columbia, S.C. attorney Deborah Barbier, it seeks a “temporary stay” in an ongoing federal court case filed in 2018 by the Berkeley school district against multiple corporate defendants (and Thomas).
According to Barbier’s motion, her client’s reason for seeking this stay is to “determine what, if any, action should be taken with respect to Mr. Whitley’s dual roles as a participant in the State Grand Jury and as counsel for the district in a civil case involving the very same subject matter.”
Wait … what?
(Click to view)
Barbier (above) argued in her pleading that a stay is required “to ensure that this case is not further tainted by the political misuse of secret State Grand Jury information that may not be use for private purposes under South Carolina law.”
According to the motion, Whitley is “actively participating” in an ongoing grand jury investigation – including providing sworn testimony – related to a case in which he is also serving as a plaintiff’s attorney.
Obviously, that’s a “no-no.”
“Upon learning of Mr. Whitley’s participation in the State Grand Jury, the (defendants) became gravely concerned that his representation of the District in this case, which involves the very same subject matter of the State Grand Jury investigation, has resulted in a violation of the Act and the improper use of confidential State Grand Jury information to the Insurance Defendants’ material disadvantage,” she wrote.
Barbier’s motion seeks to determine whether Whitley should be “barred from representing it in matters relating to the State Grand Jury’s investigation.” It also seeks to determine whether “State Grand Jury information has been improperly used by the District’s counsel in these proceedings.”
We look forward to the answers to those questions …
Obviously the federal judicial system – like the rest of the country – has effectively shut down in response to the spread of the 2019-2020 coronavirus (known officially as 2019-nCoV or COVID-19). Which means this motion will not be heard – at least not in a live courtroom – for some time.
When it is addressed, though, we look forward to providing our readers with an update …
WEB EXTRA: READ THE MOTIONWhitley-motion
(Via: U.S. District Court)
WANNA SOUND OFF?
Got something you’d like to say in response to one of our stories? We have an open microphone policy! Submit your own letter to the editor (or guest column) via-email HERE. Got a tip for a story? CLICK HERE. Got a technical question or a glitch to report? CLICK HERE. Want to help support what we’re doing? SUBSCRIBE HERE.