In an article from the The State Newspaper a lawyer from a private Columbia Law Firm argued before a State Circuit Court that Attorney General Alan Wilson, under the law, no one can stop Wilson from paying our any size fee he wants to.
“The statue is clear: the attorney general can pay litigation costs, including attorney’s fees, ” said Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, who represented Columbia law firm Willoughby & Hoefer in a Wednesday hearing before State Circuit Judge Alison Lee.
Rutherford further stated the only oversight for this is the voters who can un-elect Wilson at the end of his term if they do not like his decisions. Strong words from the Attorney/Legislator who himself has come under very questionable acts in 2020. Such as his actions during the Febuary Judge Elections where he was seen in attempts to bully the objections to certain judges. Rutherford also sits on the very questionable Ethics Committee at our State House.
Jim Griffin, an Attorney for Citizen Activists who brought a lawsuit to question if Wilson is allowed to award the $75 Million in fees to a private law firm (these fees are taken out of a $600 Million settlement in public money) told Judge Lee “that it is nonsensical to think that Wilson has an unrestricted right to award law firms huge fees of any size.”
“Under their theory, Attorney General Wilson could have agreed to pay these law firms $580 Million out of the $600 Million Settlement,” stated Griffin. “And there would be nothing your honor could do about it, or the citizens of South Carolina, other than wait until he’s up for re-election.”
At the end of the hearing Judge Lee chose to uphold the freeze on the $75 Million Dollars preventing it from being spent by the attorney’s. She also stated she would issue a ruling on this matter by October 14th if the freeze should stay in place or not.
The $600 Million settlement, announced by Wilson on August 31st, was to compensate South Carolina for economic damages resulting from the federal government’s years long failure to remove some 9.5 tons of weapons grade plutonium from Barnwell County’s Savannah River Site. The money came from a U.S. Department slush fund and was approved by Attorney General William Barr.
To note, Wilson worked for Willoughby & Hoefer prior to becoming Attorney General in 2011. Wilson stated that the firm worked hard on the case and earned their fee, and that he would turn over the remaining amount to the General Assembly (which includes Todd Rutherford).
The original lawsuite was filed by government ethics watchdog John Crangle, a Columbia Lawyer, and the S.C. Public Interest Foundation, a non-profit that has brought numerous lawsuits against various government agencies questioning their lack of transparency and accountability when it comes to public money.
Rutherford argued that Crangle and his foundation lacked the “standing” to file a lawsuit as they were not personally injured.
Griffin stated back in his argument that enough precedent existed for citizens to bring such lawsuits questioning officials expenditures of public money if the matter is in the public interest.
Griffin also stated that the settlement agreement between the Federal Government and South Carolina stated nothing concerning attorney fees, and the money was only to go to “economic assistance”. “They (the money) weren’t intended to pay lawyers.”
Griffin stated he is not disputing that the law firm deserves to be paid but he is questioning the amount and Wilson’s power to pay such a high fee to a private law firm without any oversight. Griffin also questions the amount of hours the law firm put into the case as there is no traces of discovery, interrogatories, documents or other normal time consuming expensive work that normally runs up legal fees.
Rutherford stated it was unfair and unreasonable to freeze the $75 Million that the lawyers allegedly earned that they could invest and earn more money on.
Rutherford also stated that if the suit goes forward he would be asking for Crangle and the Public Interest Foundation to put a bond in the amount of $75 Million plus another $7.5 Million. Judge Lee stated she would not set a bond as she plans on ruling on this matter quickly.
Crangle and the Foundation have also filed a petition with the State Supreme Court to take up the case without going through the lower courts. “We need the Supreme Court to set precedents to guide future attorney generals.”
Gov. McMaster has also objected to the size of the large fee awarded to the private law firm. As he and Sen. Lindsey Graham also helped get the original $600 Million for South Carolina.