Clarendon coroner files lawsuit against primary winner

Mock says winner is unqualified, shouldn't have been certified, wants her off November ballot

BY KAYLA ROBINS
kayla@theitem.com
Posted 6/17/18

Primaries may be over, but one race in Clarendon County may not be as cut and dry as counting the ballots in light of a lawsuit and injunction filed against one of Tuesday's winners.

Bucky Mock, the current coroner in Clarendon, filed a suit in …

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Clarendon coroner files lawsuit against primary winner

Mock says winner is unqualified, shouldn't have been certified, wants her off November ballot

Posted

Primaries may be over, but one race in Clarendon County may not be as cut and dry as counting the ballots in light of a lawsuit and injunction filed against one of Tuesday's winners.

Bucky Mock, the current coroner in Clarendon, filed a suit in the Third Circuit's Common Pleas Court on Thursday claiming LaNette Samuels-Cooper, his challenger on the Democratic ticket who won the nomination to run unopposed in November, is not qualified to be a coroner and that she was certified to run when she should not have been.

Samuels-Cooper is listed as a defendant with the Clarendon County Board of Voter Registration and Elections, the Clarendon County Democratic Party, the South Carolina Democratic Party and the South Carolina Election Commission.

In the complaint, Mock, who told The Sumter Item on Friday he did not want to add comment for now, claims the Clarendon County Democratic Party "improperly certified" Samuels-Cooper, "even though Samuels-Cooper does not meet the statutory requirements" of the state law that lists eligibility requirements for coroners in South Carolina. In turn, he claims, the state Democratic Party improperly verified she met the requirements.

"Importantly, the law requires coroners to meet specific educational requirements and to have had specific death investigations experience," the legal document states.

Partisan candidates must file an affidavit with their county party and mark how they are qualified for the position. Samuels-Cooper, who is the sister of the late Hayes F. Samuels Jr., who died at the beginning of the year during his fourth term as Clarendon coroner, filed her affidavit on April 4. On it, she marked she has a four-year baccalaureate degree and has one year of experience in death investigation with a law enforcement agency, coroner or medical examiner agency. Both of those requirements must be met to satisfy the box she checked. That was the only box she checked.

"However, this information is false because she has not conducted death investigations," the complaint states.

"Defendant Samuels-Cooper has not completed a recognized forensic science degree or certification program. In fact, she says 'she is enrolled for a program for Aug. 13, 2018-Aug. 18, 2018.' However, this program is not the forensic science degree and certification program recognized by the Coroners Training Advisory Committee, which has been delegated the statutory authority to make such a determination" by state law, the document states. "The recognized process and program is sponsored by the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigations (ABMDI). To be eligible for the ABMDI process, one must have 640 hours of death investigation experience prior to going through the program."

Samuels-Cooper told The Sumter Item in May that she has not led a death investigation. She said her 13 years of working as an administrator at the coroner's office - both under her brother and when Mock was appointed the role in his place after having served as his deputy coroner - is what qualifies her to be coroner. She said her duties included managing budgets, contacting doctors and law enforcement and filing paperwork. She said she "ran that office."

Samuels-Cooper said on Friday she had not yet read the complaint and deferred comment to the Clarendon County Democratic Party.

Patricia Pringle, chairwoman of the county party, said she has not read the documents yet but that she will.

The Sumter Item was told Shirley Black-Oliver, director of Clarendon County Voter Registration and Elections, was not in the office on Friday.

Defendants have 30 days to respond to a legal complaint after being served.

Mock claims in the lawsuit he and the citizens of Clarendon County were harmed because he was "forced to campaign against a candidate who is not qualified ... nor can [she] become qualified to be elected coroner ... in 2018."

Mock is asking the court to declare Samuels-Cooper does not meet the requirements to become coroner and to accept an injunction to prevent her from being certified as a candidate and from being placed on the ballot in November.

Mock has 22 years of experience as a death investigator, is a registered forensics nurse and has worked in the medical field as a nurse since 1979, including in emergency rooms and as a first responder.

Chris Whitmire, director of public information and training for the state election commission, said early Friday afternoon he had not yet heard about the lawsuit but that, regardless, the commission does not comment on pending court cases.

He did say the commission "does not play a role" in determining who is qualified to run for public office and that it is the "responsibility and authority" of the county election parties for partisan candidates. Petition candidates would file directly with the county or state commission, depending on what level of government they are running for.

A different view came from South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson, who said the state parties are responsible. He said it was a "waste of time" to name the Clarendon County Democratic Party in the lawsuit.

"The certification process is perfunctory in nature," Robertson said, noting he has a writ of mandamus, which is a court order, based on a 1931 case to certify candidates if they mark they meet the requirements. He said the state party is a neutral party in this issue and that a lawsuit would have been filed regardless because he would have been sued for not certifying Samuels-Cooper - state parties can't assume a candidate is lying.

He said the certification process needs to be clarified.

Robertson said he received a copy of the suit on Friday and sent it to the party's attorneys.