Local, Politics, Simpsonville

Simpsonville City council replaces insurance appointed attorneys after suggested settlement offer turned down

Lawsuit filed by former Chief of Police Keith Grounsell continues through the courts.

The Simpsonville City Council met on two consecutive days in August of this year during executive sessions to discuss a legal matter and obtain legal advice. Apparently, after reviewing the evidence presented by the Plaintiff (Keith Grounsell), the city of Simpsonville’s insurance company’s appointed attorney recommended initiating settlement negotiations with the Plaintiff. It was alleged that the Plaintiff agreed to a settlement for an amount that was a fraction of damages actually claimed in his lawsuit. No other details are known. Our sources reveal that this alleged settlement was for less money than it cost to litigate former Councilwoman Sylvia Lockaby’s lawsuit against the City of Simpsonville, which was a little more than $52,000, according to a Facebook post by the Mayor.

After several hours of discussions in executive session, an agreement was apparently reached, but no official vote took place in the public. Facts from multiple sources revealed that the city council held the executive session on August 13, 2019 and the city’s insurance attorney presented the settlement recommendation to city council. Evidently the majority of council agreed to the settlement at that time. The very next day (less than 24 hours later), August 14, 2019, the mayor called an unscheduled special city council meeting for the purpose of an executive session on this very same matter. A marathon long executive session took place. In the end, the city disclaimed their insurance company and fired their insurance company appointed lawyer.

What happened in less than 24 hours to throw things so off course, which were allegedly already agreed upon by the majority of the city council and the Plaintiff? Did the mayor object to settling with Grounsell? Somebody must have objected and changed the majority decision during a second executive session, because they threw out any settlement agreement from the day before, fired the insurance companies’ attorneys and hired city attorney David Holmes to defend the case. As tax payers we should be entitled to know what information came out that was so compelling that it was worth putting the city at further financial risk to litigate this matter. Why fire the outside attorney that knows the case best, is unbiased, who spent countless hours reviewing evident presented in discovery, and not take this burden off tax paying citizens. City Attorney Holmes, who is likely a witness to many of these allegations and not an employment law specialist, will now defend this employment law related lawsuit on behalf of the city. Depending upon the number of witnesses needing to be deposed, at a going rate of $500 to $1,000 for depositions and transcriptions, this could cost the city a substantial amount, not including any money awarded to the Plaintiff if his claims are substantiated by the courts.

Is this being good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars?

Several other questions arise as a result of these actions: If the city loses the case, will the city’s insurance company still be liable for damages or does the city have to pay out of pocket? How much are we paying David Holmes on top of his salary to handle this matter, if there are depositions and a trial?

According to the city’s budget, over $300,000 has been paid for municipal liability insurance. Does this same amount of money or more now have to be paid to another company at the expense of the taxpayers. The burden of proof in a civil case is merely a preponderance of the evidence, which is far less than is needed in a criminal case

Was this a wise business decision taken by Simpsonville’s elected officials? This act will likely cost tax payers tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, in extra money to litigate the case, won or lost. It will cost even more, if the Plaintiff is successful after a trial. Municipal lawsuits are caped under the law, but with a minimum of two claims this could cost taxpayers over $1,000,000, not including legal fees. With that said, why would our elected representatives not of settled for less than $100,000, than to gamble taxpayers’ money and potentially cost 10 times this number.

City Administrator Dianna Gracely was contacted about this story and she stated, “that we are going to defend this lawsuit to the very end because we don’t think we did anything wrong.”
The case is now moving forward and is in the discovery phase. Some depositions have been taken and a court date could be scheduled on the docket soon.

The following current and past elected officials of Simpsonville are named as defendants in this lawsuit: (1) current Mayor Janice Curtis, (2) former city councilman George Curtis, (3) former Mayor Perry Eichor, and (4) current city councilwoman Stephanie Kelley. ♦

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