Law Firm of S.C. Retirement Investment Chairman Gets Plenty of State Business

July 17, 2013

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Reynolds WilliamsIn recently reappointing Reynolds Williams to the state Retirement System Investment Commission, S.C. Sen. Hugh Leatherman offered high praise for the longtime Florence attorney.

“If people do a good job then I leave them — that way you have a known quantity,” Leatherman, R-Florence and the Senate Finance Committee chairman, was quoted in a local newspaper as saying. “He’s done a superb job and will continue to do a superb job. The retirement fund has about $27 billion. It’s a huge, huge responsibility, and he’s done a great job with it.”

Some would dispute Leatherman’s assessment of Williams’ tenure as chairman of the seven-member investment commission – particularly Curtis Loftis, a commission member and the state treasurer, who has battled Williams publicly on more than one occasion.

What hasn’t received as much public scrutiny is Williams’ other connections to state government.

The 10-attorney law firm of Willcox, Buyck & Williams, which is managed by 67-year-old Williams, has fared well in recent years representing government agencies in the Palmetto State, a review by The Nervefound.

In 29 of the firm’s cases that closed between July 1, 2012, and March 31, a total of $754,552 in legal expenses was paid through the state Insurance Reserve Fund (IRF), which insures state and local government agencies for liability and property damage claims, according to online records recently posted by the S.C. Comptroller General’s Office.

The paid expenses ranged from $2,298 to $112,971, with an average of $26,019. Expenses listed in Insurance Reserve Fund records include defendant attorney fees as well as other legal costs, such as expert witness fees, according to a spokeswoman at the S.C. Budget and Control Board, which oversees the IRF, though the records don’t give breakdowns of the costs.

Willcox, Buyck & Williams’ clients ranged from large state agencies, including the Departments of Corrections, Social Services and Motor Vehicles; to local governments, including the counties of Darlington, Georgetown, Horry and Marion; the city of Darlington, and towns of McColl and Sellers, IRF records show.

Most of the claims were filed since 2009 and involved allegations of false arrest, police brutality or other civil rights violations by law enforcement agencies, according to those records.

Paid losses in the 29 cases totaled $168,000, which represented 22 percent of the total paid expenses in those cases, IRF records show. No losses were paid in 20 of the cases; most of the claimants in those cases did not have attorneys.

In two cases where losses were paid to claimants, law firms of state legislators – Reps. James Smith, D-Richland, and Jenny Horne, R-Dorchester – were listed in IRF records as representing the claimants.

Contacted at his law office Tuesday by The Nerve, Williams, the firm’s managing partner, said any representation of claimants by state lawmakers who are attorneys would play no role in how those cases were handled by his firm.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with personalities –zero,” he said.

Williams said he has never been the attorney of record for any IRF case handled by his firm, though he added he has occasionally “made a court appearance to do a favor for one of my partners,” and “filed an answer (to a plaintiff’s lawsuit) once or twice.”

Williams noted that according to his records, from July 1, 2012, through March 31, his firm received a total of approximately $555,000 in attorney fees, though he added those cases likely were not exactly the same as the ones listed in the IRF records on the comptroller general’s website.

“It still sounds high to me,” Williams said of the total $754,552 in paid expenses in closed IRF cases – one of which spanned more than 10 years – involving his firm, as listed on the comptroller general’s website.

Asked if he believed he had any conflicts of interest between serving as the state Retirement System Investment Commission chairman and his firm’s representation of other state agencies, Williams replied, “No, zero.”

Williams listed himself as a stockholder in his law firm on his most recent annual statement of economic interests filed March 1 with the State Ethics Commission, though he didn’t report any fees that his firm earned from Insurance Reserve Fund cases.

Asked Tuesday if the reporting of IRF fees is required under state law, Cathy Hazelwood, chief lawyer and deputy director at the Ethics Commission, told The Nerve in a written response: “If the payment from the IRF comes directly to the attorney and not to the attorney’s firm, then it should be disclosed as public income. If the payment comes to the firm, then no.”

Besides his partnership in the law firm, Williams also reported the following business affiliations on his most recent statement of economic interests:

  • Country Pig Inc. – stockholder;
  • IRIX Pharmaceuticals Inc. – stockholder;
  • 1st Eastern Carolina Title Agency – stockholder;
  • Rio de Familiar LLC – member;
  • Kingstree Commons LLC – member;
  • BillyReyn LLC – member; and
  • Williams & Mary LLC – member.

Nerve intern Emily Dawes contributed to this story. Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and on Twitter @thenervesc.