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King answers lawsuit challenging his ability to hold office

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By Travis Jenkins

Chester City Councilman William King has responded to the lawsuit from Chester Citizens for Ethical Government (CCEG) seeking to have him removed from office by denying the group’s claims that his felony record makes him unqualified for office.

The lawsuit, which CCEG filed against King, the Chester Election Commission and the Chester County Board of Voter Registration and Elections, asks the court to rule that King is not qualified to vote in South Carolina, is not qualified to hold elected office and that the board and commission should vacate his 2017 election win. CCEG is seeking a temporary injunction to keep King from voting as a councilman until a final verdict is issued in the matter, saying “the citizens of Chester will sustain an irreparable injury if Defendant King is permitted to continue to serve as a member of Chester City Council during the pendency of this action.” Additionally, CCEG asks for attorney’s fees and costs and “other and further relief as the court deems just and proper.”

The basis of the suit is that King is a convicted felon. The suit states that he plead guilty to 29 counts of forgery under $5,000 “which are each felony criminal offenses.” A Verified report indicates that King forged and cashed 27 personal checks at a credit union drawn on a personal account belonging to a third party from September 2, 2003 until October 24, 2003. He pled guilty to those charges and was sentenced to five years of incarceration on each of the 27 counts, suspended by imposition of one-year probation on each count. His terms of probation included requirements that King remain incarcerated until a bed became available for substance abuse in-patient treatment as well as outpatient treatment and that he obtain full-time employment.

Additionally, King forged two checks on a business bank account in the amounts of $254 and $255 in March of 2004. He pled guilty and was sentenced to five years of incarceration, suspended by imposition of a year or probation, concurrent with his other sentences.

The suit also notes that King was charged with breach of trust with fraudulent intent, more than $2,000 but less than $10,000 and forgery, less than $10,000. Those charges were dismissed without prejudice by prosecutors and/or law enforcement prior to any conviction.

Based on his convictions, “King has not been qualified to vote legally in the State of South Carolina or the City of Chester since he became a felon in 2004….pursuant to S.C. Code.” The suit also says “at any time King registered as a candidate for public office from 2004 forward, King was not a registered voter and was therefore disqualified from holding public office altogether, on information and belief, he may have represented otherwise in connection with his registration.”

The News & Reporter did obtain copies of King’s election filings through a Freedom of Information Act request. King signed a candidate’s oath, which says “I affirm I meet, or will meet by the time of the general election, the qualifications for this office.” King had run for city council unsuccessfully on one other occasion. A member of CCEG told the News & Reporter they believe their suit may be a first of its kind in South Carolina and thinks a case can be made that every vote taken by King could be disqualified. That would make a significant difference in some cases, including on the recent hiring of Stephanie Guy Jackson as the new city administrator, which passed 4-3 (with two abstentions) and had King voting with the majority.

King’s legal response, filed on Wednesday, is very brief.

“The defendant denies the allegations,” the response reads several times.

King does make one counterclaim against CCEG. The answer says CCEG’s suit is “without merit and has caused the defendant to incur attorneys fees and costs to defend this action; therefore the defendant requests that the court order the plaintiff to pay the defendant’s attorneys fees and costs and that the court sanction the plaintiff as the court deems appropriate.” King also asks for the complaint to be dismissed without prejudice.

A hearing scheduled for March on the matter was postponed because King’s attorney (Mandy Powers Norrell) is also a member of the state legislature. The chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court issues an order every year that lawyer-legislators can’t be compelled to appear in court while the legislature is in session. That could lead to the matter dragging into June. In the meantime, CCEG is still pursuing a more rapid resolution through its suit against the Chester Election Commission and the Chester County Board of Voter Registration and Elections, which could be forced to invalidate King’s election.

Given the allegations made in the CCEG suit and King’s denial of those allegations, The News & Reporter obtained a copy of King’s full criminal history through a State Law Enforcement Division background check. The relevant felony charges for forgery upon which CCEG’s suit is built are all present on the background check as are the other charges mentioned in the suit, which were dismissed or not prosecuted. Beyond the convictions mentioned in the lawsuit, King has more than 30 other convictions, most all being on misdemeanor fraudulent check convictions for which he either paid a small fine or received a sentence of time served. He was convicted on charges of disorderly conduct and two counts of misdemeanor breach of trust in the early 2000s and petty larceny in 1999. Misdemeanor convictions do not affect a person’s eligibility to vote or hold office. He was also charged with multiple counts of forgery in 2013 but all of those charges were completely dismissed.

The background check says because of King’s felony convictions for forgery, he is not permitted to possess or acquire a firearm.

King did briefly address the lawsuit during a recent city council meeting. In talking about the “baggage” of one candidate for Chester City administrator, he said he assumed voters knew of his own when they voted for him .