The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that McCormick County’s sheriff did not need to be certified in South Carolina to serve the job.
Not long after his win in the 2016 election, Sheriff Clarke Stearns was targeted by the losing Democratic candidate who argued the Republican was ineligible to serve. JR Jones said Stearns had spent the previous 31 years in Virginia. He pointed to state law which requires a sheriff with Stearn’s level of education (an associate’s degree) have at least three years experience as a certified law enforcement officer, which he said meant “certified” in South Carolina.
A lower judge allowed the Republican to serve while the case made its way through the courts. On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court ruled the law does not specifically say an elected sheriff’s certification must occur in South Carolina. Justice John Few wrote in the unanimous decision that the legal section cited by Jones and his attorneys specifically exempts sheriffs from the requirement that the certification occur in South Carolina.
“(State law) requires any sheriff to have ‘a two-year associate degree,’ which Sheriff Stearns has, and ‘three years experience as a certified law enforcement officer,’ which Sheriff Stearns also has,” Few wrote. “Therefore, Sheriff Stearns meets the legal qualifications to serve as the Sheriff of McCormick County.”
Former Democratic candidate for governor James Smith had represented the Democratic Party in its arguments before the Supreme Court.
Stearns told the Greenwood Index-Journal that he nearly did cartwheels in the parking lot when his lawyer called to say he won his case.