Lexington-Richland 5 offers to settle $10 million legal spat with former board member

FIle photo: Kim Murphy of Chapin speaks at a school board meeting.
FIle photo: Kim Murphy of Chapin speaks at a school board meeting.

The Lexington-Richland 5 school board voted Tuesday, April 8, to settle a 6-year-old legal battle with former board member Kim Murphy. But her attorney called board members “out of touch,” adding “they have more pride than sense.”

If Murphy accepts the district’s offer, legal claims against her alleging she cost the district $10 million for delaying construction projects will be dropped. However, she would also have to agree to not file any legal action against Lexington-Richland 5 without following certain procedures — among them, getting permission from the court and notifying the district of her intent to file.

If Murphy accepts the settlement but does not follow these rules, the court could order her to pay $2 million, plus interest and fees. The unanimous decision by the board gives Murphy and her attorney, Paul Porter, until 5 p.m. April 18 to respond to the offer.

Porter said in an emailed statement that the board’s decision was a “show vote.”

“The fact that they think an offer asking someone to voluntarily restrict their own rights will make the board look reasonable shows that they are out of touch and that they have more pride than sense,” Porter said. “This behavior really concerns me, as the board charged with overseeing the education of district 5’s students has such a flagrant and limited understanding of how constitutional rights work.”

School district attorney John Reagle said the settlement would stop “further wasteful and unnecessary litigation.”

“Her actions deprived the students of the timely use of new and improved facilities at Chapin High School,” Reagle said, according to a news release. “Just as the school district would seek to hold anyone accountable for damages to school property caused by their improper and disruptive acts ... the school board was obligated as stewards of the school district’s resources and assets to protect its students’ and taxpayers’ interests to hold Ms. Murphy accountable for the consequences of her abusive appeals and lawsuits in pursuit of her personal interests.”

MORE: Read the full motion by the board of Lexington-Richland 5 here.

Earlier this year, Murphy’s lawyer and the district entered mediation in an attempt to resolve the suit over construction delays.

The building plans Murphy opposed called for filling 727 feet of a creek and a piece of wetlands near Chapin High School. Murphy said it would hurt the environment, and she sought to challenge the district’s permits for the construction.

The legal dispute was one of several between Murphy and the district during the last decade. The case began in 2013 when Murphy filed an appeal in circuit court after the board voted to remove her from office. She was removed because fellow board members determined that while she was elected to one of the board’s Richland County seats, she actually lived in Lexington County.

The district, in its response to the suit, said the board acted appropriately. The district also filed a counterclaim that said delays caused by Murphy had increased the cost of the Chapin High School construction by more than $10 million.

Murphy lost the court battle over her removal. But the district’s counterclaim remains unsettled.

Lexington-Richland 5 has said it determined that Murphy owed more than $10 million because of increased construction costs, as well as:

$103,479 in expenses needed for “attending meetings and drafting alternative designs” for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

$611,654 in attorney’s fees.

$131,267 in architectural fees, among other listed items.

In legal filings, the district argues that Murphy tried to delay the Chapin High project to appease her political allies. She says she has always fought for the good of the students and families in the district — not for personal gain.

Isabella Cueto is a bilingual multimedia journalist covering Lexington County, one of the fastest-growing areas of South Carolina. She previously worked as a reporter for the Medill Justice Project and WLRN, South Florida’s NPR station. She is a graduate of the University of Miami, where she studied journalism and theatre arts.