For 18 months, the Richland County Board of Elections & Voter Registration and its current and former board members have refused to obey a judge’s order to pay $34,940 in attorney’s fees to a lawyer who filed a lawsuit against the board.
But after a former board member named in the lawsuit recently found out she couldn’t get a home refinance loan because the judge’s order had resulted in a lien on her property.
The liens weren’t the worst part of the judge’s order to pay.
Board members named in the 2014 lawsuit, including current ones, were ordered to report to the Richland County courthouse on Aug. 22. They are summoned before Master in Equity Joe Strickland so they could show the judge why some of their personal property should be not be seized by the state and sold to pay the legal bill.
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“I have never in my 70 years had anything like this to come up,” ex-member Elaine DuBose said Friday. Because of the lien on her property she and her husband haven’t been able to get a $283 monthly reduction in their home loan. That a lot of money for them, since they are both retired, she said.
However, people familiar with the situation, including DuBose, say that board director Samuel Selph is preparing a check to pay the attorney, Jim Carpenter, of Greenville. The money will come from the board’s taxpayer-financed budget.
Selph could not be reached Friday for comment.
Meanwhile, the legal bill has risen by $3,800 to $38,740. That’s because of added interest at the rate of 7.25 percent a year.
“It looks like they are going to pay it,” board lawyer Alex Postic said.
Carpenter said he’ll be glad to get the check.
“The judge made his order in February 2015, and they’ve been stalling us ever since,” Carpenter said. “I think they are finally getting ready to pay me because yesterday (Thursday), they asked me for the payoff amount.”
If he doesn’t get paid, Carpenter said, he will go ahead with the Aug. 22 hearing to seize whatever assets will be required to sell to pay the lawyer’s fees.
The attorney’s fees grow out of legal actions Carpenter brought against the board since 2011 involving the constitutionality of the board’s make-up.
The board is appointed by the Richland County legislative delegation. However, the board’s budget is set by County Council.
The county, in a statement, said, “Richland County Council is not responsible for the voter registration/elections board. The elections board and the recreation commission were created by state statute and the members of both entities are appointed by state elected officials. Richland County’s role with respect to either entity is to fund it in an amount mandated by the Legislature.”
DuBose, who served more than 12 years on the voter board before stepping down in the last year, said, “I have called council members and delegation members. Everybody says, ‘Well, we don’t have the ability to pay.’ I felt like we were totally tossed under the bus.”