Councilwoman accuses colleagues of misusing public money to try and oust her from seat

Tax money used to fund lawsuit in Union County

MARVIN, NC (WBTV) - A councilwoman in the Village of Marvin, a small town in western Union County, has filed an affidavit in court accusing the village’s mayor and a fellow council member of illegally using public funds to finance a lawsuit to remove her from office.

Mary Shkut filed the affidavit in Union County Superior Court in mid-January as part of a lawsuit brought against her by Marvin Mayor Joseph Pollino and Councilwoman Kimberly Vandenberg.

Pollino and Vandenberg initiated a type of lawsuit called a write of quo warranto, which is a legal proceeding used to remove someone from office who wrongfully assumed the seat in the first place.

In her affidavit, Shkut says the lawsuit started as a result of a vote taken by councilmembers at a meeting of the council on July 10, 2018.

Specifically, the affidavit said, the council approved a resolution directing the village’s attorney, Melanie Cox, to research legal action to force Shkut from her seat.

Invoices attached to Shkut’s affidavit - which was filed in court under oath - show village funds were used to pay Cox and a second attorney, TC Morphis, who practices at the Brough Law Firm in Chapel Hill.

Ultimately, documents attached to Shkut’s affidavit show, the lawsuit was brought in the name of Pollino and Vandenberg after a lawyer at the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office said the action could not be brought by the town itself.

The North Carolina General Statute governing quo warranto actions explicitly forbids the use of public funds to pay for such an action.

Despite that, records show, public funds were used to pay both Cox and Morphis’ firm for research and action related to the legal action.

“To date, the Cox Law Firm, PLLC, has charged the Village of Marvin at least $5,872.50 for services in connection with this action;” the affidavit said.

“To date, the Brough Law Firm, PLLC, has charged the Village of Marvin at least $5,135 for services in connection with this action,” the affidavit said.

In an email, Morphis denied any wrongdoing. He issued the following statement in response to a request for comment:

“While there is little I can say publicly about the cases at this time, Ms. Cox and I believe that we have acted at all times appropriately and lawfully on behalf of the Village of Marvin in the lawsuit known as Shkut v. Village of Marvin.”

“Likewise, I believe that at all times I have acted appropriately and lawfully on behalf of the individual plaintiffs in the quo warranto lawsuit, Pollino v. Skhut. Ms. Vandenberg and Mr. Pollino hired me to represent them in that case in their capacities as individual citizens, not on behalf of the Village of Marvin, and at the appropriate time, I intend to file redacted versions of my engagement letters and billing statements to them.”

“We will be making additional filings with the Court prior to the hearing on February 4th, and these issues will be brought before a judge to rule on at that time.”

Cox, the other attorney to be paid with village funds in relation to this action, declined to comment when reached by a WBTV reporter and pointed to Morphis’ previous statement.

Pollino sent an email responding to a request from WBTV late Thursday afternoon.

“I believe Mr Morphis, our attorney, has responded to you at this time,” Pollino said. “I will say that I take these accusations very seriously and have acted appropriately at all times. I completely deny any and all of these allegations.”

Vandenberg responded to an email from a WBTV reporter seeking comment but declined to comment beyond what Morphis said in his statement.

“I am confident that I have acted appropriately at all times,” she said.

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