Judge says 2 SC law firms can’t spend $75 million they received from plutonium removal settlement yet

Updated: Oct. 7, 2020 at 7:47 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A South Carolina judge has asked two law firms that were wired $75 million from the state last week to not spend that money.

The money is from a $600 million plutonium removal settlement between the state and the federal government.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced the settlement in August.

The settlement gives the Department of Energy up to 2037 to remove 9.5 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium from the Savannah River Site. The plutonium was relocated to SRS in the early 2000s.

Attorney General Wilson said two private law firms, Willoughby & Hoefer, P.A., and Davidson, Wren & DeMasters, P.A., will be receiving $75 million in legal fees for their help with court cases over the years and for coming up with the legal strategy to get the settlement. According to Attorney General Wilson’s biography on his office’s website, Wilson previously worked at the Columbia firm of Willoughby & Hoefer, P.A.

A watchdog group filed a lawsuit aiming to have the courts decide who can disperse the money. “Our argument is the Attorney General does not have any authority to disperse any of the $600 million in the settlement,” Attorney and watchdog John Crangle said. “That money should go to the General Fund and the General Assembly decides how to spend it.”

During a virtual court hearing Wednesday, attorneys representing the law firms and Attorney General’s office said Wilson does have the authority to disperse the money and the fees are fair based on a contract they had signed off on.

They did not want to go on camera Wednesday since the case is ongoing.

A circuit judge extended the freeze on the money for another week or until she makes a ruling.

Attorneys representing Crangle have filed a request for the Supreme Court of South Carolina to take up the case.

“We think the money should remain frozen until the courts can determine how much legal fees they’re owed and who can pay the money out,” Crangle said.

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