Thursday District Attorney Plez Hardin provided details about a hearing held Wednesday in the Superior Court of Sumter County in which he and Superior Court Clerk Nancy Smith were seeking clarification on an open records request from Maurice King, attorney for the Sumter County Board of Education (BOE). King filed the request, asking for the names, addresses, sex, and race of those serving on the grand jury.
Hardin said the information requested by King is protected under secrecy laws to ensure that the system operates unbiasedly and Grand Jurors are not subject to influence and intimidation.
The D. A. said the information should not be subject to disclosure, but he petitioned the court to decide the matter, one way or the other. In the event, the D.A. or Superior Court Clerk are incorrect in their determination that access to the information is not appropriate, they could be subject to criminal liability; that’s why the court was requested to decide the matter, as Hardin explained.
The D.A. said there are occasions when the personal information about the Grand Jury should be divulged, but not in this case.
“In my opinion Mr. King’s request is pre-mature.” he said.
The open records request is not the only request King has made since the grand jury’s investigation began. King requested to be present during the D.A.’s initial interview of the school Board, which was not permissible by law and the judge ruled that he would not be allowed to do so.
To add another dynamic to the inspection into the BOE, Southwestern Judicial Circuit Judge Rucker Smith, who was presiding over the current open records case, recused himself Wednesday. Hardin said Judge Smith contacted both he and King prior to Wednesday’s hearing, saying there “may be a conflict.”
Smith cited that he is a product of the local public school system and has a relative currently serving on the BOE. Hardin said he did not see any conflict as the outcome of the hearing would be a grand jury related decision on King’s open records request, not a decision about the school Board itself. Concerning Judge Smith and potential conflict of interests, Hardin said he left it in the hands of King, who sent a request Wednesday afternoon for Judge Smith to recuse himself.
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