Freelance reporter sues Cabell prosecuting attorney over FOIA request

By Kyla Asbury | Jan 3, 2019

HUNTINGTON — A freelance legal researcher is suing Cabell County Prosecuting Attorney Sean K. "Corky" Hammers for violating the Freedom of Information Act.

Jay Lawrence Smith, of South Charleston, is also a journalist and owner of MSL Media Enterprises. He filed the lawsuit against Hammers in his capacity as the county's prosecuting attorney in Cabell Circuit Court.

Smith claims he called the prosecuting attorney's office in February to ask about "moonlighting" conducted by attorneys in the office and left a voice message.

In his voice message, Smith requested that Hammers provide several documents for inspection, including all documents exchanged between the prosecuting attorney's office and anyone else regarding assistant prosecuting attorneys conducting legal work outside of their normal duties since Jan. 1, 2014; and any policies in place regarding moonlighting, according to the suit.

Smith claims he requested the documents under FOIA.

Later that day, Smith received a response from Madeline Pearson, the office manager of the prosecuting attorney's office, that stated the office had no documents pertaining to the information he was requesting.

Smith claims neither Hammers or anyone else in his office provided information to the West Virginia Secretary of State's Office regarding the FOIA request as required by law.

On March 2, Smith sent an e-mail to Hammers via Pearson, encouraging him to review several attachments to the email and then "give thoughtful consideration" before answering. He noted the e-mail was a second request for information.

In his e-mail attachments was a petition filed in 2015 in Mason Circuit Court in which Jason Spears, an assistant prosecuting attorney, was acting as legal counsel for Hershel Woodrow "Woody" Williams.

The defendants failed to respond to Smith's second request for information.

Smith is seeking the court to declare the defendants' refusal to disclose the records was unlawful and to grant injunctive relief to Smith. Smith is representing himself.

The case is assigned to Circuit Judge Alfred E. Ferguson.

Cabell Circuit Court Case number: 18-C-580

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