J. R. Jones, South Carolina Democratic Party, and McCormick County Democratic Party, Appellants,
South Carolina Republican Party, McCormick County Republican Party, and Clarke Anderson Stearns, Respondents. Appellate Case No. 2017-002583
Submitted October 1, 2018
from McCormick County R. Lawton McIntosh, Circuit Court
Emerson Smith Jr., James E. Smith Jr., PA, of Columbia; Tommy
Lee Stanford, Stanford & Assoc., PC, of Greenwood; E.
Charles Grose Jr., Grose Law Firm, of Greenwood; and William
Hunter Alexander, Law Office of William H. Alexander, LLC, of
Barnwell, for Appellants.
E. Tyson Jr. and Vordman Carlisle Traywick III, Robinson Gray
Stepp & Laffitte, LLC, of Columbia, for Respondent Clarke
Anderson Stearns; Karl Smith Bowers Jr., Bowers Law Office,
of Columbia, for Respondents South Carolina Republican Party
and McCormick County Republican Party.
address two questions in this appeal. The first question is
whether a challenge to an elected official's legal
qualifications to serve in the office to which he has just
been elected must be brought pursuant to the administrative
provisions of Title 7 of the South Carolina Code, or whether
such a challenge may be brought in circuit court. The second
question is whether the "certified law enforcement
officer" requirement to serve as sheriff-found in
subsection 23-11-110(A)(5) of the South Carolina Code (Supp.
2018)-requires the certification to come from South Carolina
authorities, as opposed to authorities in another state. We
find the plaintiffs in this case were permitted to bring the
action in circuit court, but the necessary certification to
serve as sheriff need not come from South Carolina
authorities. We affirm the result of the circuit court's
decision, which did not remove the elected McCormick County
Sheriff from office.
Facts and Procedural History
County voters elected Clarke Anderson Stearns as their
Sheriff in the November 8, 2016, general election. After the
election, Appellants brought this action in circuit court
alleging "Stearns does not possess the necessary
qualifications to be Sheriff of McCormick County."
Specifically, Appellants claim "Stearns does not have
three years experience as a certified law enforcement officer
as defined by [subsection] 23-11-110(A)" of the South
Carolina Code (2007 & Supp. 2018). Appellants asked the
circuit court to grant "declaratory and injunctive
relief declaring that Defendant Stearns does not meet [the]
qualifications set forth in section 23-11-110." Based on
that claim, Appellants "specifically request[ed]"
the circuit court issue an order "enjoining the
Defendant Stearns from serving as Sheriff of McCormick
the circuit court action was filed, however, the losing
candidate in the general election-J.R. Jones-filed a Title 7
election protest with the McCormick County Board of
Canvassers. Jones filed the challenge on November 16, 2016.
The county board held a hearing on November 21. By a vote of
3-to-3, the county board took no action on Jones's
protest. Jones did not appeal the county board's
filed this action in circuit court on December 7, 2016. He
was joined as plaintiff by the South Carolina Democratic
Party and the McCormick County Democratic Party, to all of
whom we will refer collectively as "Appellants."
Appellants initially filed a motion for a temporary
injunction, asking the circuit court to enjoin "Stearns
from taking the oath of office for Sheriff of McCormick
County, assuming control of the office of Sheriff of
McCormick County, and taking any official action as Sheriff
of McCormick County." The Honorable William P. Keesley
denied the motion for a temporary injunction by order filed
January 20, 2017. Sheriff Stearns was sworn in and began
serving on January 23, 2017.
Honorable R. Lawton McIntosh conducted a bench trial on
October 18, 2017. The court denied relief, finding Appellants
were required to pursue their challenge to Sheriff
Stearns' qualifications through the administrative
provisions of Title 7, and by appealing the county
board's decision to the State Board of Canvassers.
Appellants appealed the circuit court's decision directly
to this Court pursuant to Rule 203(d)(1)(A)(iv) of the South
Carolina Appellate Court Rules and subsection 14-8-200(b)(5)
of the South Carolina Code (2017).
begin with the question of whether Sheriff Stearns meets the
legal qualifications to serve. This discussion will lay the
groundwork for addressing whether the law permitted
Appellants to bring this action in circuit court.
Qualifications to ...