On Wednesday, the parties in the class-action lawsuit of Current and Former Students Vs. Morris College were scheduled to have a hearing at Sumter County Judicial Center before an at-large circuit court judge on a quashed - or stopped - subpoena letter to allow the plaintiffs to send a mold specialist firm onto the campus to formally test for mold infestation.
On Dec. 28, Morris College attorney David Weeks sent a letter to the state's Third Circuit Court to "protect" him, because he is a state legislator, from being called to any court hearing for the legislative session through July 31. Therefore, there was no hearing in the case on Wednesday.
Attorney John Harrell wrote the following commentary for publication in response to questioning from The Sumter Item on whether Weeks' letter to invoke his "legislative privilege" would delay the hearing on the quashed subpoena letter indefinitely:
In response to your question, no, our hearing is not postponed indefinitely, but legislative privilege can have the effect of delaying an important hearing like this one, though a legislator can attend a hearing despite the invoked privilege. The hearing was for Morris College's motion to quash (suppress) the Class Plaintiffs' (students') subpoena to have - at the students' expense - testing done on the buildings' condition and presence of toxic mold at Morris College.
Rep. David Weeks is not likely to blame for this. It's most certainly his client - Morris - that is prompting this delay. I say this because Rep. Weeks also represents the good people and students in his district where Morris College sits.
He's not attending the hearing - an action which allows this delay and thus blocks the discovery of an important health improvement solution ... at his alma mater that's making employees, students and children of his constituents sick.
This doesn't seem like something he would be in favor of doing, and I'm willing to bet it's not. As lawyers, we follow our clients' wishes, and - knowing of Rep. Weeks as I do - I feel certain this is most likely the case here.
So far, the Class Plaintiffs, and some employees, have spent over $30,000 in medical expenses - just since we filed the (November) lawsuit - trying to get these affected students and employees in his district back on the road to health. There are a multitude more to test and treat, and there are many "sick buildings" to remediate.
Our subpoena was simply seeking to do toxic mold testing. I believe it's highly likely that Rep. Weeks was instructed to file a motion to block what was simply an effort to allow the testing - at our clients' expense, not the school's - of the toxic mold conditions so we could address how to fix the problem once and for all. Morris College has put Rep. Weeks in a tough spot because the college is blocking the resolution of critical health concerns at the expense of Rep. Weeks, his alma mater, the students and his employee constituents, in his own district in an election year.
I believe, also, that Rep. Weeks is being a good lawyer to his client, but it seems his client is continuing to be a bad actor toward its students and employees. The college may very well be using his privilege as a legislator to do this to everyone, but it's certainly not illegal. It's just a glaring example of the negligence and/or recklessness of Morris College that this lawsuit seeks to address.
All lawyer-legislators enjoy protection from the court during the legislative session and into the summer. Rep. Weeks' invocation of that privilege now - even though the Legislature doesn't start until Tuesday - is what makes us think it's all at the behest of his client, the college.
If Morris would permit Rep. Weeks to do so, it could just as simply agree to allow the testing by the Class Plaintiffs' engineers and mold experts to go forward. Then, we all can get to a solution for the ongoing problem of these toxic conditions, rather than forcing students to continue to live in it, employees to continue to work in it and all to continue becoming even more ill in it.
I'm coming to Rep. Weeks' defense on this issue because he's a good man, a good legislator, a good lawyer and very likely only following the marching orders of his client, Morris College. We believe the college has never sought testing for a lasting solution to these egregious problems. It seems to have always turned a blind eye to the illnesses of the thousands of students, former students and the employees when the issue of toxic mold contamination is concerned.
Many, many people are very sick, the buildings are very sick, and the Class Plaintiffs just want their experts - engineers and mold experts - to get on campus to tell us all how to fix these pervasive problems once and for all. We fully intended to produce the results to Morris and hope for some helpful, caring action on the part of the college. The college has blocked that effort to date.
However, there's some good news in the case. I have an upcoming meeting with Rep. Weeks next week (the week of Jan. 8-12) to discuss a solution, which has been proposed to us on behalf of the current Class Plaintiffs and future Plaintiffs. I'm not authorized by my clients to discuss or disclose the plan, until I speak to Rep. Weeks. What I can say is this proposed solution promises a manageable, ongoing, global solution that's helpful to all.
I'm looking forward to discussing it with Rep. Weeks. It's a solution that should help everyone medically recover, repair the sick buildings, provide for oversight leadership and restore Morris College to its rightful place as a top-notch HBCU (Historically Black College and University).
I'm looking forward to this meeting because Rep. Weeks and I have an opportunity to do some good for everyone involved.