Jasper school board member calls superintendent's suit harassment

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comJune 26, 2014 

Randy Horton

SUBMITTED PHOTO

Jasper County school board member Randy Horton alleges a lawsuit filed against him by the superintendent in April is an abuse of the legal system meant to harass, intimidate and silence him.

In his counterclaim filed June 9, Horton also alleges that superintendent Vashti Washington's suit is meant to discredit him.

Washington made similar claims in her suit filed April 7 in the Court of Common Pleas in Jasper County. She alleges that Horton has "slandered and libeled" her and influenced a federal investigation of the school district.

Washington, not the school district, is paying for her own legal expenses, district spokeswoman Shellie Murdaugh said. It is unknown whether Horton is paying for his own legal costs.

S.C. School Boards Association spokeswoman Debbie Elmore said she has never heard of a situation in which a district superintendent and school board member tangled in court -- especially since school boards are responsible for hiring, evaluating and terminating superintendents, she added.

Multiple attempts Thursday to reach Horton were unsuccessful. Attempts to reach his attorney, David Black of Beaufort, also were unsuccessful.

Washington declined to comment Thursday, citing the ongoing litigation.

However, her attorney, Jim Moss of Beaufort, said Horton has repeatedly and falsely claimed that Washington has committed illegal acts and falsified documents, making the district the subject of investigations.

Little information has been made available about a federal investigation of the district, which began in early March. But the FBI, IRS and 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.

According to Moss, Horton has also made false claims to the state Board of Education, the governor's office and now the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

In his lawsuit response, Horton says the law allows him to make statements as an elected official with a duty to represent the public interest. It's his right and duty as a school board member to ask questions of, supervise and evaluate the superintendent, he claims.

Horton has publicly questioned whether Washington has a doctorate degree, which she said she completed at Nova Southeastern University in 2003. A university registrar official confirmed Thursday that she completed the doctorate coursework and graduated in 2003. However, she didn't officially receive her degree for educational leadership and administration until May of this year because of late paperwork, the official said.

Both sides will now begin gathering evidence and taking depositions, Moss said. They are required to go through mediation before the case can go to court, and both sides seek punitive and actual damages.

"It is too early to say it is definitely going to court," Moss said. "But I feel very strongly that Ms. Washington has done her best to help the school district, and there are certain forces against her, and they take the liberty of saying anything they want."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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