West Virginia Record

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Freelance legal researcher files two lawsuits against Cabell County sheriff

By Kyla Asbury | Dec 30, 2016

HUNTINGTON – A freelance legal researcher has filed two lawsuits against Cabell County Sheriff Tom McComas after he claims the sheriff failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests.

On Feb. 1, Jay Lawrence Smith, of Hurricane, made a verbal Freedom of Information Act request to McComas via telephone at the executive office he maintains at the courthouse, according to one of the two complaints filed Dec. 30 in Cabell Circuit Court.

Smith claims in his request, he asked for deposits and expenditures made to and from the concealed license holder permit fund from Jan. 1, 2001, through Dec. 31, 2015.

When McComas did not respond by the deadline, Smith submitted a second FOIA request in writing on Feb. 17 and McComas responded that he could provide an estimate, but that there would be a 10 cent per page cost to copy the files, according to one of the suits.

Smith claims at the time of his request, H.B. 2636 was in effect, which outlaws research fees and limits the fee to what a records custodian could charge for photocopies to a “reasonable” one based on the “actual cost of reproduction.”

On April 19, Smith replied that he would afford a reasonable amount of time to locate what remaining documents in its archival storage system beyond that which was available the last three years and also agreed to pay the 10 cents per page “should the portable electronic devices he brought with him failed to operate.”

Smith claims when he did not hear back from McComas, he sent an e-mail on June 1 that he intended to appear at the executive office on the next day or the following to look at the requested records, but due to pressing matters, he was unable to go either of those days and on July 27, he left McComas a voicemail that he would be there the following day.

On July 28, Smith presenting himself at McComas’ office and requested the see the concealed weapon’s fund reconciliation documents he had requested in February. Shortly after arriving, he was greeted by “Bethany” who told him that McComas was not in the office, but that she would take a message and have him contact Smith concerning the records.

Smith claims he has not received a follow-up phone call, e-mail or letter and finally filed the lawsuit seeking production of the documents.

In his second lawsuit, Smith claims he filed an omnibus FOIA request with McComas on Dec. 19. The request was for legal fees and expenses McComas incurred in defending himself in Rosanna Crum v. Michael Thornsbury et al, as well as the legal fees and expenses he incurred from the time he took office up to the Friday preceding the submission of the request.

Smith claims the deadline for McComas to respond to the request was Dec. 23, and he has not yet received a response.

Cabell Circuit Court case number: 16-C-820, 16-C-821

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Cabell County Courthouse