Richland County elections mess cost $153,000 in legal fees - - Columbia, South Carolina

Richland County elections mess cost $153,000 in legal fees


We now know four attorneys charged fees ranging from $175 to $300 an hour for the work they did on behalf of the Richland County Election Commission in the months after the November election.

Nearly $153,000 in legal fees from the November elections isn't sitting well with county council members.

"I'm frustrated with the process," said Councilman Seth Rose. "County council was not briefed when any of these attorneys were hired. I did not cast a vote to hire any of these attorneys."

The overwhelming majority, over $72,400, are legal fees from attorney Steve Hamm's investigation and over $9,400 in fees for a lawyer for Election Director Lillian McBride. Hamm was told in February the county couldn't keep funding the investigation.

"No investigative request came to us regarding the investigation, so councilmembers felt the only thing we should be paying for are the legal bills," said Councilman Kelvin Washington.

Hamm's final report will be presented to the commission once they hire a new elections director. When we tried to question election commission Chairman Allen Downey on the cost, we got few answers.

"I'm not in a position to answer that at this point," said Downey.

There are also legal fees from the protest filed by Michael Letts' against the transportation tax that took effect last week.

"When the challenge was made by Michael Letts, that triggered a merit of things that had to take place and the first thing was legal representation for an office. That was part of the county, but not part of the county," said Washington.

"Just imagine someone coming into your home and renovating your house without the option to approve it, and you've got to foot the bill for it."

While there won't be anyone more fees from the investigation, the council worries there's still some attorneys fees yet to be invoiced.

"From the challenge of Michael Letts, I think there are other bills that have just not come in yet," said Washington.

Both John Nichols and Steve Hamm say they were judicious with their time and did some of the work pro bono or free. Hamm says his final report will contain suggestions on procedural changes that should be made. 

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