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Taxpayers paid $12,000 for lawyers in Fairfield Co. email porn investigation

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Some of the emails from Fairfield County Administrator Phil Hinley's government email account. (Source: SLED) Some of the emails from Fairfield County Administrator Phil Hinley's government email account. (Source: SLED)
Fairfield County administrator Phil Hinley resigned after a WIS porn investigation into his county email account. Fairfield County administrator Phil Hinley resigned after a WIS porn investigation into his county email account.
FAIRFIELD COUNTY, SC (WIS) -

Billing records obtained by WIS show Fairfield County spent $12,001.64 with a Columbia law firm for work on a Freedom of Information Act request. We filed the open records request with the county on April 9, amid our investigation into allegations that county administrator Phil Hinely used his county computer to disseminate pornography.

County spending records show two separate checks paid to "Wyche, P.A. Attorneys at Law;" one paid on June 13 and the second dated July 11. The June check totaled $8,430.23 and the July payment totaled $3,571.74. The $12,001.64 was all paid from the county's Recreation Commission.

In June, Wyche attorney John Moylan billed the county for three attorneys to work on the FOIA request. Moylan's invoice shows all three attorneys spent 24.6 hours working on the open records request. Moylan billed $395 an hour, Sarah Sloan Batson billed $250 an hour, and Wade Stackhouse Kold, III billed $225 an hour. The work each attorney performed is blacked out on the invoice, but part of the bill shows mileage paid to Moylan and a $403.06 charge for "research on Westlaw."

The July bill shows Moylan billed another 11.6 hours for work on the open records request at $295 an hour. The July invoice is blacked out to conceal exactly what work the attorney performed. The bill does show a charge of $149.74 for "research on Westlaw."

The FOIA request we filed asked for electronic email records that are supposed to be stored on the county's servers. The request stated, "This is a request under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act to inspect and perhaps copy all email records, downloads and attachments belonging to Fairfield County Administrator Philip Hinely sent and received on the county's servers. The records we seek were produced between Jan. 1, 2011 and today's date."

Moylan responded through email on May 10 asking for $29,395 to turn over Hinely's email records. Hinely would not allow us to go through his emails in lieu of downloading the records.

In June, after increasing public pressure and a series of WIS reports, Fairfield County Council placed Hinely on probation and cut his $131,000 salary by 5 percent through the end of the year. Hinely refused to step down amid public requests for him to do so during council meetings.

On June 27, State Law Enforcement Division agents raided the county administrator's offices in search of computer records. Agents put Hinely on notice that day they would be back for his county computer. The next morning, agents picked Hinely's computer up from a Winnsboro post office where the county planned to send it off.

WIS was at the administration office when SLED agents raided Hinely's offices. When we asked Hinely what he knew about SLED's investigation, "I don't know. They said they wanted to--I understand that Sen. [Creighton] Coleman wanted them to come and look at the hard drive," Hinley said. We asked if there was anything on the computer that he would be concerned with SLED seeing, Hinely responded, "Nothing on there I'd be concerned with my mother seeing."

On July 1, Hinely resigned.

In February, SLED agents closed an investigation into Hinely's email account after an informant handed SLED a series of emails from the administrator's "fairfieldsc.com" account. The emails in the SLED file show that between July and December 2010, pornography files from Hinely's address contained photographs and videos. The SLED file shows 18 emails, all containing either pornographic pictures or videos.

SLED closed its case on Feb. 21 after finding all the actors in the pornography appeared to be above 18 years old. Agents wrote in the case filed that they met with Fairfield County council chairman David Ferguson and handed them their case file. Ferguson told WIS he did not discipline Hinely after his meeting with SLED.

"I'm catching hell from everybody," Hinely told WIS after council voted to discipline him in June. Hinely continued to deny the allegations that he sent and received pornography via his county email account. Hinely said he had nothing to say to the people who lined up to speak out, "No, I can't convince them."

Fairfield County has not hired a replacement for Hinely as of this report. SLED's investigation into Hinely's computer activity continues.

Copyright 2013 WIS. All rights reserved.

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