Freelancer sues Cabell officials for failing to abide by FOIA requests, retaliating against him

By Kyla Asbury | Jan 18, 2019

HUNTINGTON — A freelancing legal researcher and reporter filed three lawsuits against Cabell County officials for failing to provide documents he requested under the Freedom of Information Act and for the way he was treated at the Cabell County Courthouse.

Jay Lawrence Smith filed the lawsuits in Cabell Circuit Court. They name Cabell County Commission President Robert L. "Bob" Bailey,  the Cabell County Commission, Cabell Circuit Clerk Jeffrey E. Hood and the Cabell Circuit Clerk's Office.

Smith filed the FOIA request due to several civil actions filed by the former clerk, Karen Cole, that resulted in significant payouts, according to one of the suits.

Smith claims he called the commission and when no one answered, he made a verbal FOIA request on their voicemail requesting a loss-run report from the county's insurance carrier from 2001 until 2016, insurance premiums paid by the commission from 2001 until 2016 and other information involving the premiums that were paid by the commission.

Smith also sent several written requests for the information via letter that did not receive responses.

Smith also claims in March he sent Hood a FOIA request that involved several Family Court judges between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2017.

Hood, via Attorney William T. Watson, responded to the FOIA request that many of the final orders were sealed due to the personal nature of the cases and that because of this, the items requested were exempt and not subject to disclosure under FOIA, according to the suit.

Smith claims the defendants failed to disclose the records.

Smith is seeking for an order declaring the defendants' refusal was unlawful and for the court to enjoin the defendants to provide the documents.

In his third lawsuit, Smith claims he went to the courthouse on May 21, 2016, and found four cases via the computer terminal that he wanted to look into. He asked Janet Call McCoy to pull the files for him, which she refused to do.

Smith claims prior to this date, the courthouse staff had always pulled filed when he had asked to see them.

When Smith asked McCoy why she told him that he had "enough blogs as it is," and went back to her own work, according to the suit.

Smith claims McCoy ignored Smith as he waited and told other deputy clerks not to help him as well. After about 15 minutes, McCoy put a piece of paper on the plexiglass window that said, "we no longer pull case files," and informed Smith that that was the policy.

Smith took out his iPad and took a picture of the policy and then attempted to leave the courthouse. He claims Doug West, a court security officer, apprehended him and said he wanted to talk to him. Smith broke free from West's grasp and exited the courthouse and West told him to never return.

Later that day, Smith claims he spoke with an attorney, Richard A. Robb, who had been his legal counsel several years before in a lawsuit against the Cabell County Commission, according to the suit. Smith felt the treatment he experienced was because of that lawsuit.

Robb sent a letter to the defendants for Smith and Watson responded to the letter, stating that Smith was apprehended for taking videos or photographs of the staff, which is unacceptable conduct.

Smith claims he made a second request for the documents via fax and informed the officials he would be at the courthouse on May 26, 2016. When he arrived, he was greeted by Sarah Ruth Board, who informed him that the scanned files were on the public access computer. Smith claims he said he wanted the physical files and Board replied that the files were scanned onto the computer.

Smith claims he attempted several times over the next several months to receive the physical files and the defendants failed to provide them.

The cases were assigned to Circuit Judges Paul T. Farrell, Gregory Howard and Alfred F. Ferguson.

Cabell Circuit Court Case numbers: 18-C-618, 28-C-619, 18-C-620

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