Judge rules in Randy Horton's favor
A judge ruled in favor of Jasper County school board member Randy Horton in his lawsuit against the school district.
On Sept. 5, a summary judgment granted Horton $13,530 in attorney fees and $1,096.56 in costs for a total of $14,626.56.
Horton said he is glad the court ruled in his favor, but was hoping for more justice.
"I have sort of mixed feelings about it," Horton said on Wednesday. "I knew by law I was entitled to this information but I was hoping the judge would put some sort of guidelines on the timeline the district has to provide information."
Horton said districts in other states have a standard time frame on how many hours a district has to respond with the requested documents. He said as an example, if he receives an agenda packet on a Thursday he might have more questions and seek more documents pertaining to the agenda. But the regularly scheduled school board meeting will be on a Monday and under FOIA laws, the school district has 15 days to respond with a letter outlining an expected date for any requested documents.
He said by that time the information wouldn't be any good because he wanted the information for the Monday meeting.
"I'm a school board member, I shouldn't have to go through FOIA laws to get this sort of information," Horton said.
The case was judged by Carmen T. Mullen of the 14th Judicial Circuit.
Representing Horton was J. Ashley Twombley and Jennifer Campbell of Twenge & Twombley Law Firm and the district was represented by Kenneth Childs and Dwayne Mazyck of Childs & Halligan.
Horton said he doesn't believe operations in the district will change.
"The school board doesn't hold anyone accountable. It's like a big joke to them," Horton said. "Someone should be held criminally responsible for this."
'I won't shut up'
Horton sought a declaratory judgment and an order declaring that he is entitled to review all documents he requested, or any other documents generated by the district, at no charge, in order to fulfill his responsibilities as a board member.
He said the district violated the state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by failing to respond to his FOIA requests first made on June 7, 2012.
The documents requested include credit card statements for school board-issued credit cards for specific board members and a list of bonus checks given to non-certified staff by the Jasper County School District superintendent.
Horton filed a lawsuit on June 20, 2013.
Childs is disappointed in the ruling, according to a letter sent to the school board (dated Sept. 9).
"Jasper County School District personnel sent Mr. Horton numerous requests for information concerning his FOIA requests, which he ignored or failed to provide any response to the District's inquiries," Childs said in the letter.
During a March 31, 2014 hearing before Judge Mullen, the court ordered the district to produce all requested documents to Horton, which were all received by July 8, 2014.
Horton submitted an affidavit of costs and attorney's fees, which was resolved in the Sept. 5 court order.
Judge Mullen wrote in the concluding statements that, "I find that an award of costs and attorney fees is appropriate under the circumstances and hereby award attorneys' fees at a rate of $100 an hour for a total of 135.3 hours."
$1,096.56 was awarded to Horton for time and costs spent in receiving the FOIA request.
Childs said in the letter that he will confer with the board at the next meeting concerning the district's options.
Horton said between the board's alleged illegal executive session meeting (the school district says the Aug. 28 meeting was legal) and what he believes are broken FOIA laws, he plans to continue filing lawsuits against the district until justice is served.
"Either two things are going to have to happen. Either they're going to have to change the constitution where it says you don't have the freedom of speech or abide by the first amendment or (the district is) going to have to abide by the law," Horton said. "But as long as the law says I have a right to this sort of information, I won't shut up and I won't sit down."