Councilman sues candidate over remarks

An incumbent for one York County Council district has filed a lawsuit against a candidate for another, turning up the intensity in one of the most competitive County Council races in recent years.

District 4 representative Roy Blake is suing council candidate Ashley Martin for $100,000 over comments Martin made during a recent debate at the Freedom Center in Rock Hill.

In a lawsuit filed less than a week before Tuesday's primary election, Blake alleges that Martin's statements about Blake in the June 1 forum accused him of filing false campaign finance information with the State Ethics Commission.

Martin accused her opponent, Curwood Chappell, of funding Democrats' campaigns, including Roy Blake's, to control the County Council, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in York County. The lawsuit alleges Martin knew those statements were false and pulled earlier campaign literature with similar statements from circulation.

Blake denies financial support from Chappell and said it would have been reported on his campaign disclosure forms.

"That was a blatant lie," Blake told The Herald on Thursday. "I feel she needs to prove these accusations."

Blake's attorney, Chad McGowan, said Blake's not interested in the $100,000, but in clearing his name.

"(Martin) refused to retract it. She insisted it's true but has given us no evidence," McGowan said. "Mr. Chappell never rendered any financial assistance to Roy Blake whatsoever."

If Martin corrects these statements, Blake will drop the lawsuit, McGowan said. He added that she declined opportunities to retract her comments earlier this week.

Martin told The Herald on Thursday she thinks this suit will be resolved quickly because it lacks merit.

"Nothing was directed toward Roy Blake. It was a question directed for Curwood in a debate format," she said. "I have nothing to do with Roy Blake. I'm running against Curwood. For this to come out is shocking. I didn't accuse him of any ethics committee wrongdoings."

Blake is in his second term as the District 4 council representative. He faces William "Bump" Roddey and Gwendolyn Conner in the Democratic primary.

Martin is opposing 16-year incumbent Chappell in the Republican race for the District 5 seat. Chappell could not be reached for comment Thursday.

McGowan said the timing of this suit, five days from the election, isn't relevant, saying if Martin had made these statements six months ago, the suit would have followed.

"I don't see how this would help him win his County Council race," he said. "He's worried about his professional reputation outside of the race."

A lawsuit seeking damages is Blake's only avenue to clear his name, McGowan said.

Martin's comments followed a question posed to Chappell about supporting Democrats on County Council, something the panelist lifted from Martin's campaign literature. He answered comments about his support of state Rep. Herb Kirsh, D-Clover, and a choice to support a conservative Democrat over a liberal Republican.

Martin answered that same question, saying she had proof Chappell encouraged and financially supported Democrats to run for County Council.

"He's basically building his own council, keeping things the way he wants it -- to serve as the master of council," she said during the forum.

After being pressed for a name or evidence, she said Chappell financially supported Blake's campaign. If true, Blake would have lied on forms given to the State Ethics Commission.

Martin declined to comment on the evidence she has to up back her statements. She said she's focusing on her campaign now and will worry about the lawsuit after the primary.