Richland County owes winning lawyers in Gerald Seals lawsuit

Richland County is set to pay more than $ 70,000 to the lawyers who sued the county and won.

The county was ordered Wednesday to pay Columbia law firm attorney Joe McCulloch $ 71,045.95 in attorney fees, plus costs in the amount of $ 2,475.95. This is in addition to payments to the county’s own lawyers for defending the county council’s decision in this case.

Richland County had contested the county’s claim for payment of fees, after losing a case last year that overturned the nearly $ 1 million payment that Richland County Council had approved for the former administrator Gerald Seals.

A judge overturned the council vote for this payment after ruling that council members violated open meeting rules on how he decided on the high-figure settlement to secure the resignation of the county’s top trustee, weeks after the board tried to fire Seals.

As the losing party, Richland County was required to pay the winning attorney’s fees. McCulloch had represented County resident William Coggins in the lawsuit challenging payment for the seals.

The county had argued that the plaintiff missed a moving deadline to request that attorney’s fees be covered. Judge Jocelyn Newman dismissed that argument on Wednesday, noting that the deadline was pushed back by various procedural motions after her October 2020 ruling. Coggins missed the final deadline after his last order in the two-day case, said Newman.

The judge sided with Richland County in ruling that McCulloch is only entitled to costs related to his dominant argument that the county violated the SC Freedom of Information Act, and not costs related to his argument alleging ethical violations by board members, which Newman did not rule. to.

But Newman has decided how much money the county is responsible for, ruling that McCulloch and other attorneys spent more than 181 billable hours working on the case, or more than 7.5 full days.

“Accordingly, the Court finds that the attorney’s fees and costs claimed by the Plaintiff are reasonable and appropriate, despite the overlap of certain FOIA-related and non-FOIA-related activities, as the Court accepts the Plaintiff’s argument. according to which many are inextricable from each other, ”the court ordered.

Bristow Marchant covers the Lexington County local government, schools and community for the state. He graduated from the College of Charleston in 2007. He has over 10 years of South Carolina experience with the Clinton Chronicle, Sumter Item and Rock Hill Herald. He joined The State in 2016. Bristow won the 2015 SC Press Association award for Best Series and was on The State’s award-winning election coverage in 2016.
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