BREAKING: Samuels-Cooper to be taken off ballot for Clarendon coroner; new primary scheduled

State election commission says June primary winner disqualified due to judge's ruling of inexperience


LaNette Samuels-Cooper will be taken off the ballot for Clarendon County coroner, a state official said.

The decision was made after Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge R. Ferrell Cothran Jr. ruled Samuels-Cooper, who beat Clarendon County Coroner Bucky Mock in the June 12 Democratic primary, is not qualified to become a coroner in the state based on statutory requirements based on experience as a death investigator or medical examiner.

"The judge's order disqualified the candidate," said Chris Whitmire, director of public information and training for the South Carolina Election Commission.

Mock filed a lawsuit on June 14 disputing what Samuels-Cooper claimed was her experience that made her qualified on her filing affidavit earlier this summer. She checked a box that said she had one year of experience as a death investigator.

Two days of testimony led to Cothran's ruling that her 13 years of working as an administrative assistant, which was not as an official full-time county employee until this year, did not equate to being a death investigator. The law states death investigators are deputy coroners, coroners or medical examiners who have gone through the investigation of determining the cause and manner of death of a deceased person, including natural, unnatural and suspicious causes.

State law also explains what to do if a "party nominee dies, becomes disqualified after his nomination or resigns his candidacy for a legitimate nonpolitical reason ..."

"The vacancy must be filled in a special primary election ..." the code reads in Section 7-11-55.

Going off that statute, filing will open for a new primary, open to all state-certified parties, at noon on Tuesday, Aug. 14.

Whitmire said filing will close at noon on Tuesday, Aug. 21. If more than one person files, an election will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 4.

If only one person files, there will be no need for an election, and that person will be placed on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

Whitmire said if a primary must be held, the county should not be burdened with extra costs because the state election commission reimburses counties to pay polling managers, the "No. 1, by far, most expensive part" of holding primaries.

If Samuels-Cooper files for the new primary, she will not be placed on the ballot because of the judge's ruling against her, Whitmire said. Mock and anyone else can file for the new election.

Ronnie Sabb, an attorney representing Samuels-Cooper, said they and his team are still evaluating their options, including an appeal.

"We're disappointed, but we understand the process," he said.

Cothran did rule in part in favor of Samuels-Cooper, saying that she could be a candidate because Mock did not exhaust his administrative remedies by formally protesting the June primary election results. But because he ruled she cannot become coroner, Sabb said it was a "hollow victory."

"There's no rejoicing there," he said. "Ultimately, we believe she is a qualified candidate for coroner."

He said the law is flawed because it favors incumbents and deputy coroners.

Mock said he will file to run, again, for coroner. He was appointed on Feb. 21 by Gov. Henry McMaster to fill the unexpired term of Hayes Samuels Jr., who died on Jan. 17. Mock had previously served as deputy coroner in Clarendon County for 21 years.

Samuels-Cooper was still listed as an active candidate on the state election commission's candidate tracking database as of press time, but Whitmire said the county is responsible for changing the status. The Clarendon County Voter Registration director is out of town until Thursday.