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Preston and Council Win at Supreme Court   June 3, 2008
In a decision issued this morning, the South Carolina Supreme Court dealt a final blow to Anderson County Councilmember M. Cindy Wilson’s efforts to sue County Administrator Joey Preston for alleged denials of information. The majority opinion of the Court affirmed the actions of Administrator Preston and the County Council as a whole but rejected Wilson’s efforts to make her claims a court battle. The decision of the Supreme Court was another court victory for Preston and the Council in the saga brought on by Wilson years ago.

Wilson initially sued Preston in November 3, 2004 claiming denials of information from Preston and the Council. Her claims were rejected by Judge Alex Macaulay, of the 10th Judicial Circuit, on May 15, 2006 and Wilson appealed the case to the Supreme Court. The decision of the Supreme Court supports the actions of Preston and the County Council on a number of grounds and as to a number of issues.

In the majority opinion, Justice Moore rejected Wilson’s claims that she had been denied information from the Administrator. The Court stated that as of 2005, Wilson “had received over 59,000 pages of documents from the Administrator.” The Court determined that the inescapable conclusion was that Preston “has not denied Wilson access to the documents.” Importantly, the Court recognized that Wilson was acting contrary to the established decisions of Anderson County Council, acting in its official capacity as a whole and in public meeting, and that Preston appropriately was allowed to take “care of the County’s business before fulfilling Wilson’s requests.” The Court further stated that the Council enacted an ordinance regarding the priority of Preston’s fulfillment of duties and that he had discharged those duties. In sum, the Court stated that “law does not require the Administrator to give the documents to a single council member in any particular manner.” Accordingly, Wilson’s claim was rejected.

Wilson’s requests for the narrative detail of legal bills and for the waiver of the attorney-client privilege as to that narrative detail were also rejected by the Court. Although Wilson has received extensive and exhaustive summaries of all parts of the legal bills and expenditures on County legal matters except for the narrative detail (listing in specific detail what legal work was actually performed in each instance), Wilson demanded to see the actual legal bills containing the narrative detail, that would disclose the County’s litigation strategy in litigation matters, divulge personnel issues in others, and generally cripple the County in any adversarial legal setting, including in each of the ten litigation matters involving the County to which Ms. Wilson has been a party, thus far. Wilson’s intent, as stated to the Supreme Court, was for her to independently waive the attorney-client privilege by making the documents public. The Court recognized the historical importance of the attorney-client privilege in promoting confidential disclosures between an attorney and a client. In this case, the client was Anderson County. The Court unanimously rejected Wilson’s claim and held that “Wilson, as a council member, cannot independently review attorney-client privileged documents.” In rejecting Wilson’s claim, the Court recognized the manner in which Preston, the County Attorney, and County Council as a whole managed privileged information and protected Anderson County.

In an additional concurring opinion, Chief Justice Toal, joined by Justice Pleicones, wrote that Wilson’s claims should not have even been in court. Chief Justice Toal wrote that the claims were not properly brought in the Court and that Wilson “essentially asks the Court to delve into internal disputes among Anderson County Council members and to overturn the Council’s decisions.” The Chief Justice’s opinion adds that the issues are political questions, they infringe upon the separation of powers, they are not properly before the court, and Wilson’s request should be denied.

“Our actions (County Council and myself) in protecting the interests of the County were affirmed by the Supreme Court,” said Anderson County Administrator Joey R. Preston. “As the Court has issued its decision in this lengthy legal battle lasting almost four years, this final unsuccessful attempt by Wilson should bring finality to what some deemed a “political” issue and allow us to get our complete focus back to the business of Anderson County.”

Click here to view the official opinion of the SC Supreme Court

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