COLUMBIA, SC — The South Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed with plaintiff rural school districts that state government is not doing enough financially to assure a “minimally adequate” education for public school students in poor areas of the state.
The court ruled 3-2 Wednesday in favor of plaintiff districts in the 21-year-old school equity suit, Abbeville County School District, et al. v. The State of South Carolina, et al.
Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP filed the lawsuit in 1993 and has represented the 36 school districts throughout the two-decade argument surrounding whether the state's education funding is constitutionally adequate. Nelson Mullins partners Carl Epps and the late Steve Morrison served as co-lead counsel, supported by a team of some 25 attorneys and paralegals from the Firm.
"Nelson Mullins is proud of the role we played in this case, which reflects our late partner Steve Morrison's passion to serve those in need and to provide equal justice and improved educational benefits in our communities. Steve's legacy and the work of Carl Epps and all the Nelson Mullins attorneys and staff who persevered for more than 20 years reflect the Firm's commitment to pro bono."
Mr. Morrison passed away in October 2013.
“The citizens of S.C. are again the beneficiaries of the Firm’s deep sense of what’s just and fair," Mr. Epps said. "We all regret that our hero, Steve, is not here to enjoy the day. I also want to state my personal appreciation for Nelson Mullins’ support. When you consider that only a minority of our offices are in South Carolina, but all of our offices made the sacrifice to see this through, it’s really amazing.”
The trial, held in circuit court in Clarendon County, ended in December 2004. After a year of deliberation, Circuit Judge Thomas Cooper ruled on December 29, 2005 that the State did not provide a "minimally adequate education" in early childhood education but further held that the State's system of public education in grades K-12 did meet minimally adequate standards.
Both the plaintiff districts and the State of South Carolina filed motions to reconsider with Judge Cooper in 2006. Both motions were dismissed another year later in July 2007, and the plaintiff districts voted unanimously on September 6, 2007 to appeal their case to the South Carolina Supreme Court.
Final arguments in the case were made before the state Supreme Court on June 25, 2008. The justices ordered a rehearing in 2012 on how laws enacted since the trial court decision had affected their arguments.