CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The attorney representing five children who say they were sexual assault victims of a former Charleston County School District employee went before a judge Thursday to argue whether more than 1,300 documents in the case should remain confidential.
Attorney Mark Peper said early on in the case, he and the school district’s attorneys joined in a formal Confidentiality Agreement that said certain documents exchanged as evidence should be confidential from the public. Items containing personal information, for example, would fall under confidentiality.
But Peper said all 1,315 documents CCSD turned over to him so far in discovery were marked “confidential." He argued Thursday in court that such blanket designations were not what the attorneys agreed to.
“The public has a right to know what’s going on in this litigation. This is taxpayer money that funds the school district. The school district, we believe, was grossly negligent in how they handled the matter. And so just as my client deserves justice, my client also wants the general public to understand what went wrong, when, by whom,” Peper told us after the hearing.
Outside counsel for CCSD Duke Highfield and Tori Anderson with Young Clement Rivers law firm told the judge the documents had personal information in them, such as names, addresses and social security numbers.
Judge Diane Goodstein said in those cases, “Where personal information needs to be redacted, just redact it. And remove the confidentiality designation."
Peper also argued that CCSD was dragging its feet and not turning over additional discovery – evidence – that he requested back in March.
Highfield and Anderson told the judge that a lot of the documents Peper wants, they simply don’t have. For example, they said, CCSD does not keep records of school-specific teacher and student turnover.
The judge directed other items be turned over. That included a list of settlements and lawsuits related to sexual assault in the entire district, and a copy of any complaints of sexual or physical assaults at Dunston Elementary by any employee.
During the hearing, the judge asked Peper and attorneys for the school district to step out into the hallway to work out a couple of details related to discovery requests.
Marvin Gethers was the district employee accused of having child pornography on his district-issued laptop in 2014.
A Live 5 News investigation uncovered that Gethers was allowed to keep working at Dunston Elementary school for two more years even after the district reported him to police. It took detectives more than two years to complete an analysis of the laptop because of limited resources, police said.
Police said Gethers sexually abusing two elementary school students after he was allowed to return to work. He was arrested in 2016 on charges related to those accusations. Though he maintained his innocence, Gethers died in 2017 before the case could go to trial.
Since then, additional students have come forward claiming they were abused by Gethers.
This week, Gethers’ then district supervisor agreed to a two-year retroactive suspension of his teaching certificate in connection with his handling of the Gethers case, according to South Carolina Department of Education documents.
The school district’s attorneys are trying to get the case thrown out altogether.