Mt. Pleasant town attorneys under fire for questioning candidate’s qualifications

VIDEO: Mt. Pleasant town attorneys under fire for questioning candidate’s qualifications

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Attorneys for the Town of Mount Pleasant are under fire for questioning the qualifications of a candidate for town council.

Brenda Corley was one of three candidates at a political forum on Sept. 16 who said they would vote to fire the town’s attorneys if elected.

After the video of the forum surfaced, we got a tip that the Town of Mount Pleasant’s attorneys were trying to find out if Corley was qualified to run for office.

Results of a Freedom of Information Act request to the town revealed one of the town’s lawyers contacted the South Carolina Charter School Alliance to get answers.

In an e-mail sent on Sept. 10, town attorney Julia Copeland asked the Charter School Alliance’s attorney whether or not an employee of a state sponsored charter school can run for and hold an elected office.

The alliance’s attorney said “it’s been accepted practice” for charter school employees to run for and hold elected office. She cited a principal of a school in Columbia who is running for city council.

Mount Pleasant Town Councilman Joe Bustos also voted yes to fire the attorneys at the candidate forum. Bustos has problems with the lawyers’ actions.

"I don't think it's proper for staff to be calling around, finding out if candidates are qualified to be candidates. That's the election commission's job to find out and ethics commission to find out if they're qualified or not," Bustos said on Monday.

In an e-mail to Live 5 News, town attorney David Pagliarini said no member of the town staff, the legal department or any elected official claim that any candidates were ineligible.

Pagliarini said a political organization claimed the questions about Corley's candidacy was an attempt to disrupt it.

Pagliarini said those claims are completely false.

Bustos wants some more answers.

"There are some things that need to be ironed out and we need to get those straightened out and that's probably gonna be one of the first things to do following the election," he said.

A request for comment from town attorney Copeland was not immediately returned.

Corley released the following statement Monday afternoon:

I was informed that a call had been made and a subsequent email from one of the town’s attorneys to the S.C Charter School Alliance asking for clarification on the legitimacy of my candidacy being that I serve as a high school principal. To this day, I’ve yet to find out who if anyone from council made the request to have the firm look into this. It is my understanding that the legal firm representing the town works at the direction of council and council only. Full council did not make an inquiry into the viability of any candidate.

It seems to me that some members of council think the current law firm is highly qualified and the most cost effective way to meet the town's needs; others on council however disagree. Through watching council meetings and committee meetings, I've heard some councilmen state that they are concerned about the contract not being bid out in ten years, that there may be a better, more efficient as well as more cost effective way to receive legal counsel and concerns that they have not always received the best legal advise.

In my opinion, the amount of discord and animosity between some council members and our present legal representation is so distracting that, that in and of itself should be enough reason to study the possibility of changing to a different format of servicing the legal counsel needs for the town.

Any attorney-client relationship must be built on trust in order to be successful. From watching interactions during council and committee meetings, it is my opinion that trust is gone and alliances have been made towards one side or the other. This is not a healthy attorney/client relationship, I think that’s obvious to anyone watching from the outside.

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