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Judge rules that firing of SC disabilities director was illegal

Judge R. Lawton McIntosh signed an order on Tuesday that found in part that the South Carolina...
Judge R. Lawton McIntosh signed an order on Tuesday that found in part that the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act was violated in the process of former State Director Mary Poole’s February firing.(Department of Disabilities and Special Needs)
Published: Aug. 18, 2021 at 12:06 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 18, 2021 at 4:30 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Six months after the state director of the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs was fired, a judge has ruled that her termination was illegal.

Judge R. Lawton McIntosh signed an order on Tuesday that found in part that the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act was violated in the process of former State Director Mary Poole’s February firing.

McIntosh cited communications that were circulated among four of the agency’s six commissioners. They included a plan to remove Poole from her position.

The plan accused Poole of having a “serious lack of leadership ability” and outlined how the removal of Poole would be brought up in the meeting’s executive session.

The contents of the plan were revealed to the public in a report by Live 5 Investigates in May,

“The vote taken at the legally noticed Commission meeting on February 18, 2021 was taken pursuant to the emails constituting a quorum of the Commission in secret ‘chance’ meetings conducted by email and is therefore invalid,” McIntosh wrote. “As that vote is invalid, Plaintiff remains in the position of State Director as if the vote had not taken place.”

McIntosh’s ruling notes that Poole “is entitled to the emoluments and benefits of the office of State Director as if the vote had not taken place” until a “properly noticed meeting” occurs within 60 days.

However, the order also indicates that Poole will not be returning to her former Columbia office.

“Defendant DDSN argues, and the Court agrees, that allowing Plaintiff to resume the duties of the office of State Director would be disruptive and would not serve the public interest,” the document says. “Accordingly, Plaintiff shall not be entitled to resume the duties of the office of State Director.”

Following Poole’s termination, the majority of the commission publicly accused her of mishandling an executive-level sexual harassment matter, but did not provide details about the allegations. Poole has not gone into detail about the allegations either, but previously stated in an email that she “handled the matter appropriately.”

Poole later filed a lawsuit against the agency, several of its commissioners, and the agency’s former internal audit director. Last month, another judge ordered in response to Poole’s lawsuit that DDSN must pause its search for a new state director.

The DDSN commission is scheduled to discuss the state director position during its meeting on Thursday. A request for comment that was sent to the agency regarding McIntosh’s decision has not yet been returned.

“I am very pleased with Judge McIntosh’s ruling,” Poole said on Wednesday. “We brought the actions of four commissioners that were done in secret out into the daylight. DDSN and the Commission are in dire need of more transparency. I believe the Court’s order will encourage positive reforms. I will continue to advocate for people with disabilities and look forward to restoring my reputation.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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