April 24, 2014

Jury awards $1.6 million in Francis Marion frat hazing case

A jury awarded $1.6 million to a former Francis Marion University student Thursday after he said he was beaten so badly during a fraternity hazing incident that he had to be hospitalized.

A Florence County jury returned a verdict in favor of Daniel McElveen, according to a release from the McLeod Law Group. McElveen testified that he was repeatedly beaten during the Phi Beta Sigma “Hell Night” initiation process on October 22, 2011. Florence County Sheriff’s deputies arrested nine men at the time for repeatedly hitting McElveen with a paddle so severely that he suffered acute renal failure.

Francis Marion suspended the fraternity and three students after the arrests.

McElveen sued FMU alum and high school teacher Maurice Robinson for his role in the incident. Deputies said Robinson owned the off-campus home where “Hell Night” occurred and acted as a leader at the fraternity. During the trial, Robinson argued McElveen had consented to the beating in order to join the organization. But McElveen’s lead attorney Mullins McLeod argued hazing is not a consensual act, but occurs because “perpetrators hold power and control over the victims.”

The jury reached a verdict of $600,000 in actual damages and $1 million in punitive damages against Robinson.

Legislators back off MUSC-College of Charleston merger


State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston

State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston (Image: SCETV)

South Carolina legislators are backing off a proposal to merge the College of Charleston with the Medical University of South Carolina.

A proposal that passed a House panel this week would instead expand the College of Charleston’s course offerings and designate the new courses as part of a new research University of Charleston that would fall under CofC’s leadership.

State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis (D-Charleston) said lawmakers decided this was a better option for the two schools, whose leaders and faculty adamantly opposed a merger. “It just became obvious that there might be a path of less resistance,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.

Stavrinakis and State Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island, had pushed the merger earlier this year, saying the combined research university could offer graduate degrees that are needed in the Lowcountry. Stavrinakis said the University of Charleston could offer those courses instead and partner with MUSC on some forms of research.

He said the bill’s language will ensure the school does not duplicate programs offered at other schools in the region. “The whole intent is to offer what’s not available. We’re not doing this so they can offer things which already exist.”

MUSC and CofC officials said they support the new plan, which now heads to the House Ways & Means Committee.

The state currently has three research universities: Clemson, South Carolina, and MUSC.

Orangeburg legislator is late entry into SC education superintendent’s race

Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg (File)

Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg (File)

A state legislator from Orangeburg said Tuesday that he will be an “advocate” for education in South Carolina if he is elected to the state’s top education post later this year.

State Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg threw his name into the ring this past weekend as the fourth Democrat – and 13th candidate overall — to run for South Carolina’s top education post. Govan said Tuesday that he plans to hold a formal press conference next week to lay out his campaign platform.

Govan has served in the South Carolina House of Representatives for 22 years, with most of that time spent in the House Education and Public Works Committee. He works as the Orangeburg County Attendance Supervisor in his private life, but has previously worked as a teacher and said he is currently working on an additional postgraduate degree as an education specialist.

“I don’t believe that you can serve unless you believe in what you’re trying to sell,” he said. “I think it’s important, if you look at where we’ve been and where we’re trying to go, that we have someone that truly believes in the public education system as head of it.”

Govan is the fourth Democrat to enter the race, but is the only one currently holding elected office. He will seek the party’s nomination against former state Office of School Transformation director Montrio Belton, Florence County Democratic Party chair Sheila Gallagher, and former SC State University dean of graduate studies Tom Thompson.

Eight Republicans are in the race, along with one candidate from the relatively new American Party.

If Govan were to win, he could be the first African-American elected to a statewide “constitutional” office in South Carolina since Reconstruction. Belton and Thompson are also black, as are GOP candidates Gary Burgess and Meka Childs.

Byrds Eye Blog: SC Lawmakers show students how well-behaved they are

For a day, about 100 students from Midlands high schools got to see firsthand how legislation is negotiated and how lawmakers try to treat each other with respect.  They may not get to witness the political back scratching and late night, behind the scenes budget bickering–but even that is done with civility, say members of the General Assembly.

Lourie Bingham

Lourie, Bingham brief students.

Those of us who cover the Legislature will give them that: Senators address each other as friend and House members are more aligned by region than race.

The South Carolina Human Affairs Commission, the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council and legislators from Richland and Lexington counties asked their high schools to join in “Students for Civility” day.

Henri Baskins of the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council said organizers want to make this an annual educational event. ” We have observed that students aren’t that concerned or involved in the civil process, the legislative process. And for those who are involved, the volume is getting louder and louder and louder,” she told me.

The project’s champions, Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, and Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington spoke to students throughout the day about what they were seeing.

“In our state, we have a good history of working together,” Lourie said. “Don’t judge public service by what you see in Washington.”

“It’s how you conduct yourself in an arena where oftentimes there are contentious issues. How do you work through that and still remain friends and respectful of the other side, even when you disagree on an issue, but you don’t make it personal,” Bingham said.

Lourie added, “Our hope is to engage them and that out of this group of 100 students, there will be future House members and senators and governors, and people that want to serve.”

Armanis Pollard from Dreher High School, like many of the student government high-achievers who participated, was “excited to see firsthand what really goes on inside of the Statehouse. We just see what’s on TV, we don’t really get to personally experience things for ourselves and form our own opinions.”

Students got a full day of briefings, committee meetings and of course, floor debate.

In the Senate Wednesday afternoon, Sen.Lourie, called for the resignation of the state Department of Social Services Director.

But he was polite about it.

Lt. Gov. McConnell to lead College of Charleston

Glenn McConnell became lieutenant governor earlier this year (File)

Glenn McConnell is one of the most powerful men in SC politics (File)

South Carolina’s Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell will become the 22nd president of the College of Charleston. The school’s officials chose him this weekend over University of West Florida Provost Martha Saunders and Dr. Dennis Encarnation, a Boston business consultant.

McConnell will return to his alma mater starting July 1.

According to the school’s trustee chairman Greg Padgett, McConnell was their top choice despite student and NAACP opposition.

“We believe that Glenn McConnell is the best person to lead the College of Charleston, and we expect to quickly conclude the contract negotiations and formally introduce Lt. Gov. McConnell to the campus and the community,” Padgett said in a statement.

The college’s Faculty Senate released a poll last week showing a majority of the school’s professors and other faculty were against McConnell’s hiring, preferring a candidate with an academic background. The NAACP and other groups opposed the choice due to McConnell’s hobby of playing a Confederate artilleryman in Civil War reenactments.

But McConnell was undeterred, telling local media, “For me, it’s like coming home.”

McConnell assumed his current position when then-Lt. Gov. Ken Ard quit for breaking campaign ethics laws.

The move will likely leave the lieutenant governor’s office empty for about six months. Under the state constitution, Senate President pro tempore Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, is next in line to assume to the lieutenant governor’s post. But Courson has made it clear he does not want the job.

The election to replace McConnell will be held on Election Day, with party primaries on June 10. Former Charleston real estate developer Pat McKinney and Columbia businessman Mike Campbell have announced their candidacies on the Republican side, while State Rep. Bakari Sellers of Bamberg will run as a Democrat.