Jasper County schools superintendent sues board member for libel

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comApril 27, 2014 

The Jasper County schools superintendent has sued a school board member, alleging he "slandered and libeled" her and influenced a federal investigation of the school district.

Vashti Washington said board member Randy Horton has tried to destroy her reputation by saying she has falsified documents, conspired to have fraudulent bids filed and committed illegal acts, according to the suit filed April 7 in the Court of Common Pleas in Jasper County.

Washington declined to comment Friday, citing the ongoing litigation. Attempts Friday to reach her attorney, James Moss of Moss, Kuhn & Fleming in Beaufort, were unsuccessful. Multiple attempts Friday to reach Horton were also unsuccessful.

School district spokeswoman Shellie Murdaugh said she did not know whether Washington's legal costs were being paid by the school district.

The lawsuit says Horton "and others made such slanderous and libelous remarks continually to the newspaper and to other individuals with the intention of damaging and destroying (Washington) in her vocation and her reputation."

The complaint alleges that Horton has been making these remarks since June 2011, even after he had been shown his statements were false.

The suit says he also has continually accused her of a crime, influencing a federal investigation of the district.

Little information has been made available about the investigation, which began in early March. But the FBI and IRS, along with several other agencies, have requested records including all district financial documents, employment files for the superintendent and other administrators, and board meeting minutes. Several district officials also have been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury.

Horton has publicly questioned Washington's doctorate degree, which she said she completed at Nova Southeastern University -- for educational leadership and administration -- in 2003.

He has said he feels it is his responsibility as a member of the board that employs the superintendent to question Washington and her job performance.

He also has an ongoing lawsuit against the school district, alleging it violated the state's Freedom of Information Act by refusing to provide documents he requested, such as credit card statements and background checks of employees.

Washington's suit alleges Horton suffers from "medical problems that do not enable him to logically conclude the truth of many matters."

It also says Washington "has been distressed and humiliated as a result of (Horton's) actions and continued actions." She is seeking both actual and punitive damages.

Horton has been summoned to answer Washington's complaint within 30 days.

The suit also said that several other people who joined with Horton in making the slanderous statements could be sued, as well.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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