It was not necessary for a candidate for the office of sheriff to hold a certification from South Carolina to qualify as a “certified law enforcement officer”.
We affirm the decision of the circuit court, which declined to remove Clarke Anderson Stearns from the office of McCormick County Sheriff.
Clarke Anderson Stearns was elected to the office of McCormick County Sheriff in 2016. Following the election, appellants filed the present action, alleging that Stearns lacked the necessary qualification to serve as sheriff. Specifically, appellants asserted that Stearns did not have the required three years’ experience as a certified law enforcement officer under South Carolina law. Appellants sought a declaratory judgment enjoining Stearns from serving as sheriff.
Prior to appellants’ action, the losing candidate in the election, J.R. Jones, filed an election protest with the board of canvassers. When the board took no action, Jones filed his action in circuit court also requesting relief enjoining Stearns from assuming the office of sheriff. The circuit court denied relief, ruling that appellants were required to pursue a challenge through the administrative provisions of Title 7 by appealing the board of canvassers’ decision to the state board.
We first reject appellants’ argument that Stearns lacked the qualifications necessary to serve as sheriff. We note that Stearns held a two-year associate’s degree and had 31 years of law enforcement experience in Virginia. We further hold that the statutory provision, cited by appellants to argue that being a “certified law enforcement officer” required certification in South Carolina, did not apply to sheriffs and said nothing about requiring certification specifically from South Carolina.
Finally, we reject the circuit court’s conclusion that appellants were required to follow the administrative procedures of Title 7 to challenge Stearns’ eligibility. We rule that invalidating the election was not the only means by which appellants could have achieved the relief sought. We note that appellants did not request any relief concerning the election but instead merely asked the circuit court to enjoin Stearns from assuming the office of sheriff.
Jones v. South Carolina Republican Party (Lawyers Weekly No. 010-107-18, 7 pp.) (John Few, J.) Appealed from McCormick County (R. Lawton McIntosh, J.) James Emerson Smith Jr., Tommy Lee Stanford, E. Charles Grose Jr., and William Hunter Alexander for appellants; Robert E. Tyson Jr. and Vordman Carlisle Traywick III, and Karl Smith Bowers, Jr. for respondents. S.C. Sup. Ct.