GREENWOOD — A judge Tuesday lifted a restraining order preventing The Post and Courier from publishing recordings of phone calls state Sen. Randy Scott made to his wife while in jail April 19 on a charge of driving under the influence.
Circuit Judge James Williams rejected Scott's attorneys' arguments that publishing the tapes would make it impossible for him to have a fair trial. He also pointed out that the tapes already have been published on multiple political blogs.
On the tape, Scott called his wife, Amanda, from his jail cell and instructed her to tell Magistrate Michael Londergan, a relative, to get to the jail right away to conduct a bond hearing.
In 36 minutes of tape, Scott repeatedly tells his wife that he wasn't drunk when pulled over by a Dorchester County deputy and that it was all a setup.
The Dorchester County Sheriff's Office gave the recordings to The Post and Courier last week after the newspaper filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
Scott's attorneys petitioned the court the next day, asking the judge to prevent the dissemination of the recordings until a judge could conduct a hearing on whether the newspaper could publish them.
The judge issued an order temporarily restraining the paper and Stender and Associates, which also received the recordings, from publishing them.
John Kerr, attorney for the newspaper, said in court Tuesday that the restraining order should be lifted based on a previous state Supreme Court ruling that establishes a three-pronged balancing test for determining whether a prior restraint is justified.
Kerr said keeping the paper from printing the information wouldn't make a difference because two Web sites have already published the recordings.
"The cat is already out of the bag," Kerr said.
Scott's legal team argued that Dorchester County Sheriff Ray Nash should never have released the recordings, and to make them public would violate Scott's right to a fair trial, along with the privilege protecting husband and wife conversations.
The attorneys, who have argued all along that the arrest was politically motivated, said in court that the release of the tapes was intended to harm their client, who is running for re-election in June.
"This thing will be all over the Lowcountry, judge," Attorney Robert Robbins said.
Williams agreed with the newspaper's argument and dissolved his prior order. He said that while the case no doubt will generate publicity, there are ways for a judge to get around pre-trial publicity. He also said there's no way he can prevent the public from seeing the information if it's already out there.
Nash said he consulted the Sheriff's Office attorney and released the recordings after concluding that "the inmate, while in jail, has no expectation of privacy" because a recording tells the inmate and the listener that the calls are being recorded and monitored. He reiterated that the deputies were just doing their jobs, the arrest wasn't politically motivated and his department was following the FOIA law by turning the tapes over.
The recordings show Scott telling his wife to call magistrates to get him out of jail in the middle of the night.
In the first call, Scott tells her to call Londergan to bail him out.
"Tell him I said to get down here as quick as possible," he said.
He then gives his wife a brief description of the traffic stop that landed him in jail. "They set me up tonight. They set me up."
In the second call, Scott starts yelling and cursing when Amanda tells him that Londergan hasn't left his house yet, and she says Londergan wanted to wait until morning.
Scott erupts, cursing: "It ain't (expletive) best if he waits until in the morning. He's too (expletive) lazy to come down here. That's his damn trouble."
Londergan did not return calls to his home for this story.
Scott calls Amanda a third time. She tells him that Londergan said he's coming down but that he's worried that he could get in trouble because Scott and Londergan are related. Scott says he has to bond out everyone at once, but asks her to get in touch with some other magistrates.
Later in the third call to his wife, Scott says the situation is going to be embarrassing for him.
"Yessir," Amanda says.
"It'll hit the paper tomorrow," Scott says. "I'm going down for sure."
Amanda agrees with him. "Yep, yep, you're going, honey."
Scott: "You don't think I can pull it out?"
She says she doesn't know anything about the situation because she was asleep.
In another call, Amanda asks Scott where he was coming from at the time he was stopped.
"I was just riding around."
"You were just riding around?" she asks.
"I wasn't drunk either," Scott says. "This ain't nothing but politics. That's all it is."
"We'll see what it's all about," his wife says.
In the final call, shortly before 6 a.m., he tells his wife that he can't sleep in jail.
"You should have thought about that before you got there," she says.
"Yeah, I should," he says.
She tells him she'll chat with him later. Scott asks her about what.
"A lot. A lot of things. We're being recorded, you know," she says.
Scott chuckles. Scott is bonded out about an hour and 15 minutes later, about eight hours after his arrest.