MCCORMICK (AP) Clarke Stearns has been working as sheriff for more than 18 months in McCormick County, but it’s still up in the air whether he is qualified to be the county’s top lawman.
Stearns’ Democratic opponent in the 2016 election, J.R. Jones, sued him within a month after his victory, saying Stearns never served as a law officer in South Carolina and therefore didn’t meet the requirement of being a certified officer in the state.
Stearns’ lawyers have successfully argued so far that his 30 years certified as a law enforcement officer in Virginia are more than enough to cover the qualification to be sheriff and he also got his certification in South Carolina after the election.
After a lower court judge ruled against Jones, the lawsuit is now going before the state Supreme Court. Jones’ lawyer Charles Grose, told The Index-Journal of Greenwood the Supreme Court has expedited the case.
Stearns, a Republican, received 57 percent of the vote in the 2016 election.
Both sides said they have sent their briefs to the South Carolina Supreme Court and are ready for the justices either to rule or set a time for arguments.
Under South Carolina law, sheriffs must be at least 21 years old, a citizen of the United States, a registered voter and have a year of experience as a certified officer if they have a four-year college degree.
The question in Stearns’ case is whether that year has to be served as a certified officer in South Carolina.