Trial on King's eligibility to hold office delayed

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By Travis Jenkins

For the second time since march, a special carve-out that prevents lawyer-legislators from having to appear in court while their bodies are in session has led to a delay in a suit against Chester City Councilman William King.

Three months ago, the newly-formed local watchdog group Chester Citizens for Ethical Government (CCEG) filed suit against Chester City Councilman William R. King II, the Chester Election Commission and the Chester County Board of Voter Registration and Elections. The suit centers on the fact that King, by virtue of his 29 guilty pleas to felony charges of forgery in April of 2004, is not eligible to vote or hold office per the South Carolina Constitution. The election commission and voter registration board were included because they certified King as a candidate during his successful campaign for city council last year and a previous unsuccessful run.

CCEG’s suit requests that the court rule that King is not registered to vote, is not qualified to hold office, has been disqualified from holding public office since 2004 and that the election commission and voter registration board be compelled to vacate the certification of his 2017 election win. The suit asks for a temporary injunction King from acting as a lawful member of the council during litigation of the case pending a final ruling and a permanent injunction against King acting as a member of the council “unless and until he shall become duly qualified as an elector and/or a public officer under state law,” along with attorney fees.

A court date on the matter was set for March, but was delayed because King’s attorney, Mandy Powers Norrell (D) is a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives. In 2017, South Carolina Chief Justice Donald Beatty updated a long-standing policy on lawyer-legislators. He noted the many problems faced by those who both hold office and work as attorneys.

“I find that lawyers who serve as members of the General Assembly provide a great service to the citizens of this state and, at times, are unable to appear for trials, hearings or depositions during the legislative session. I further find that these lawyer-legislators are often threatened with sanctions for their inability to appear when requested…I further find that the uncertainty of the availability of lawyer-legislators is disruptive to the orderly and efficient use of court time and resources. I further find that the inflexible insistence that lawyer-legislators be available whenever the court or lawyers request their presence is not only detrimental to the clients of the lawyer-legislators but also creates unnecessary angst for all concerned,” he wrote.

Therefore, Beatty issued an administrative order “that lawyers who are members of the General Assembly are granted absolute protections from being called to a deposition or a trial or hearing in any four of this state from the first Tuesday in January until July 31.” Powers Norrell used that exemption to delay the March hearing. Another was slated for this coming Monday, but she again cited that order in obtaining another delay.

“There is a hearing scheduled for this case on June 4 in Spartanburg,” she wrote on Wednesday to Joshua Brown, law clerk for the Honorable Roger E. Henderson, who was set to hear the case. “I have protection for that date pursuant to the Supreme Court's administrative order. I had hoped not to have to use the protection, but I have a conflict and will need to use it.”

Brown had informed Powers Norrell previously that Henderson “does want to knew when this matter will be able to be rescheduled” and believes “this is not a matter that…needs to be put off indefinitely.”

A CCEG representative noted that the state legislature is not actively in session right now (but is slated to return to action for budget work later this month) and that Powers Norrell has had time to hit the campaign trail, having been picked as the running mate of James Smith, a Democratic candidate for governor. Still, the order apparently would prevent Powers Norrell from having to appear in court until at least August 1.