Ousted Coast RTA CEO Myers Rollins rejected an offer to settle his lawsuit against the bus service that fired him and recently cut ties with his lawyers because they wanted him to accept the proposed payout, according to court records.
Rollins, who was terminated last year, asked the court to allow him to retain new representation in a motion filed on May 26. Rollins had been represented by Columbia lawyers J. Lewis Cromer and Ashley C. Story.
Neither Cromer nor Story could be reached for comment Thursday.
Story did file a separate motion Wednesday confirming that Rollins had ended his relationship with J. Lewis Cromer & Associates. However, she noted that Rollins had not paid more than $1,800 in costs associated with the case, and the law firm would assert a lien of 40 percent against any settlement up to the amount negotiated during mediation. That amount is not listed in the court filings.
Rollins was fired April 30, 2014, after controversy erupted over his handling of a long-delayed bus shelter and signage program. State officials scrapped the project in 2013 and later slashed more than $375,000 in funding for Coast because of the failed initiative.
Last June, Rollins filed a 24-page lawsuit in Horry County District Court. The 93-item document alleged years of abuse, humiliation and deceit that ultimately culminated in his termination after a nine-year tenure with the agency.
In his lawsuit, Rollins blamed state officials for mishandling the shelter project and said his firing was “improper and baseless.”
The lawsuit listed Coast RTA, the S.C. Department of Transportation, Horry County Councilman and Coast RTA board member Gary Loftus, County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus, Coast board Chairman Bernie Silverman, Coast board member Katherine D’Angelo and Coast’s former Chief Financial Officer Julie Norton-Dew as defendants. SCDOT official Doug Frate and former SCDOT official Hart Baker were also named in the case.
Rollins is seeking $5 million in actual damages and punitive damages awarded by a jury. He also wants his job back, back pay and benefits.
In December, representatives for both Coast and Rollins told The Sun News they hoped to reach a settlement in the coming months.
But when all the parties and their lawyers met for mediation in February, discussions didn’t go Rollins’ way, according to his motion.
“Plaintiff was subject to unyielding pressure to settle the case and incivility by his attorneys,” Rollins wrote. “Based on the legal advice received and the conduct of plaintiff’s attorneys Plaintiff determined that he and his attorneys are not on the same page and his lawyers do not adequately understand his case and the regulations that would result in a fair and proper settlement.”
Rollins also stated in court papers that his attorneys gave him incorrect information about his ability to receive state retirement benefits. He said he isn’t eligible for them.
“While Plaintiff was extremely upset that he had been misinformed he was happy that he rejected his attorneys advice and refused to settle the case,” Rollins wrote. “Had Plaintiff followed his attorneys advice he would have suffered irreparable financial harm.”
Despite his frustration, Rollins did have second thoughts about dumping his lawyers, according to his motion.
He spoke with other attorneys and did his own research before sending the Cromer lawyers a letter on April 19 informing them of his decision to find other counsel, his motion said. In the letter, he accused them of “disrespectful treatment” and mishandling his case.
However, Rollins later agreed to a last-ditch, face-to-face meeting with the lawyers on May 1, according to his motion. Still dissatisfied, he walked away. Rollins has asked the court to deny the attorneys’ request for a lien against any future settlement.
Rollins briefly appeared in court Thursday where Judge Steven John confirmed the case’s mediation had been completed.
Afterwards, Rollins told The Sun News he had not found a new attorney but planned to do so soon and move forward with his case.
Rollins added that his lawsuit would never have been filed if Coast had simply opted to not renew his contract instead of firing him. His contract had just a few months remaining when he was terminated.
“All of what has transpired was totally 100 percent avoidable,” he said. “I knew that this position was never a lifetime job. These are difficult jobs. They come with an enormous amount of scrutiny.”
When he negotiated his Coast contract, Rollins insisted that a transition clause be included. The language said that if the bus service’s leaders opted not to renew his contract, he would still have one year of employment left.
“They refused to honor it,” he said. “I was left with no choice. That’s what this is really all about.”
Coast officials have said they took the approach they did because of the clause in Rollins’ contract. When the CEO was fired, board chairman Silverman called Rollins’ agreement “a crazy contract.”
On Thursday, Silverman said the bus service’s attorneys had advised him not to discuss Rollins’ case because it’s still pending.
Contact CHARLES D. PERRY at 626-0218 or on Twitter @TSN_CharlesPerr.