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South Carolina Sheriff Ordered to Pay $37,500 in Fees and Costs in Jail FOIA Case

by Matt Clarke

On August 1, 2023, a South Carolina court awarded the parent company of a local newspaper $37,500 in attorney fees and costs in a successful action to enforce the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), S.C. Code. § 30-4-30, against Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano. The action successfully sought access to recordings of a jail detainee’s phone calls, visits and video visits, as well as copies of her correspondence from the jail.

On a 25-mph-road in Folly Beach, a car driven at 65 mph by Jamie Lee Komoroski, 25, collided with a golf cart carrying four members of a wedding party home from their reception on April 28, 2023. Samantha Miller, the 34-year-old bride, was killed. The others were severely injured, including her new husband, Aric Hutchison, 36. Komoroski was treated at a hospital and then arrested on three counts of DUI resulting in great bodily injury and one count of reckless homicide. She was taken to the Charleston County jail.

About a week later, the Charleston Post and Courier sent the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) a FOIA request for copies of correspondence mailed by Komoroski from the jail, as well as recordings of her visits and phone calls. CCSO initially complied, providing the requested information. However, when a similar request was filed a few weeks later, it was refused. CCSO cited exemptions from disclosure for privacy and interference with the administration of justice under S.C. § 30-4-40. Still later, the Sheriff’s office sought to claw back the information it had already disclosed and added a third exemption for endangering the physical safety of any person.

Aided by attorney Mark A. Peper, the news organization’s parent company, Gray Media Group (GMG), filed a FOIA enforcement action against Sheriff Graziano in state Court of Common Pleas, which ruled in GMG’s favor, holding that the recordings and copies of Komoroski’s communications were public information and subject to disclosure.

In its ruling, the Court noted that Graziano never showed how any specific exemption to disclosure applied to any specific record that was requested. The Court then determined that, pursuant to S.C. Code § 30-4-100(B), GMG was entitled to $37,500 in attorney fees and costs, the full amount requested. In its decision, the Court said it evaluated the factors set out in Glasscock v. Glasscock, 403 S.E.2d 313 (S.C. 1991), as the state’s high court instructed in Buist v. Buist, 766 S.E.2d 381 (S.C. 2014).

Before making the award, the Court determined that the fees were appropriate and customary, that the 86.6 requested billable hours represented a reasonable amount of Peper’s time and that he had “the utmost professional standing,” achieving beneficial results justifying award of the full requested amount. See: Gray Media Grp. v. Graziano, S.C. Comm. Pleas 9th J. Dist. (Charleston Cty.), Case No. 2023-CP-10-03027.

Meanwhile, several firms tied to those involved in the crash have reportedly offered Hutchison settlements which his mother-in-law has demanded, threatening to have her late daughter’s marriage annulled.

And what did the documents reveal? A very anxious defendant trying to exercise her religious faith while waiting for a trial that must happen in March 2024 or she will be granted bond and released from the county’s Al Cannon Detention Center.  


Additional sources: Law & Crime, Post & Courier, WCSC

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Related legal case

Gray Media Grp. v. Graziano