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Bamberg County illustration LIBRARY

Bamberg County Council and the group suing it disagree over whether the lawsuit should be heard in federal court or in the county.

"We prefer to have it tried in Bamberg County. We will be refiling in Bamberg County," attorney Paul Owen said after filing to dismiss the case from federal court following Bamberg County Council's successful transfer to federal court jurisdiction. Owen represents Susan Ellis and the Concerned Citizens of Bamberg County, who are suing the county.

The group alleges that Bamberg County’s contract with County Administrator Joey Preston is illegal.

They also claim county council violated residents’ constitutional rights of free assembly by preventing them from exercising their right to bring their grievances before council.

Attorney Norma Jett, who represents Bamberg County Council, says the case should be heard in federal court because it deals with constitutional issues. Paperwork was filed last week to move the case to federal court.

“Questions of federal law are removable to the federal court system, and the opposing party has a right to place such a matter in a federal forum,” she said.

"In my opinion, the federal court was the proper forum for the question," Jett said. "Therefore, I removed the case. A federal judge presented with the case may have kept the entire case or only a portion of the case in federal court, after hearing from the attorneys on that issue."

Owen said, "It is a local matter and should be in local court."

He said the question that should be asked is, "Why don't they want it to be heard locally?"

The lawsuit alleges council illegally entered into a contract with Anderson-based Preston Consulting LLC when it hired the firm to serve as the county's administrator. Preston Consulting is owned and operated by Joey Preston, the county's administrator.

The lawsuit alleges state law requires counties to enter into a contract with an employee and not an independent contractor to provide county administration services.

"You can't contract these services out. You have to obtain an employee," Owen said.

Jett declined to comment on the facts of the case to the media.

"The dismissal of the case (in federal court) precluded our need to file an answer, which would have stated our position on the allegations," Jett said.

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Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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Staff Writer

Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

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