After a legal dispute that began in July, and just less than three weeks ahead of the Midterm General Election, the state Supreme Court put to a final rest who will be in the Clarendon County coroner's race.
South Carolina's top justices ruled on Wednesday that LaNette Samuels-Cooper, who won the primary in June, is not qualified to be a coroner in the state and has no means of becoming qualified within the year allowed after being elected for the first time. That means Bucky Mock, Clarendon's current coroner and the only other candidate who ran against Samuels-Cooper, will be the sole name on the ticket on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
The ruling came as an unpublished opinion — meaning it is valid and applicable to this case but has no precedential value so cannot be cited or relied on as precedent — unanimously from all five state Supreme Court justices to reiterate the original ruling from Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge R. Ferrell Cothran.
Cothran both ruled that Samuels-Cooper does not have enough experience in death investigation work to meet the statutory requirements to be a coroner in South Carolina and that her name could be on the ballot because Mock did not challenge the results of the primary election in the allotted amount of time.
In the original merit hearing, Mock brought the lawsuit to challenge Samuels-Cooper's claims of her qualifications. Her defense claimed throughout two days of litigation and thereafter that her 13 years of working as an administrative assistant in the coroner's office should count as the one year of death investigation experience required, which testimony argued can only be performed by a coroner, deputy coroner or certified medical examiner.
Clarendon County and state Democratic parties and the state election commission asked Cothran to clarify the ruling, which seemed to affirm in parts both parties. Cothran stood his ground and issued the same ruling, leading the state Democratic Party to not certify Samuels-Cooper after she filed for a new primary. That left only Mock on the ballot.
Both Samuels-Cooper and Mock appealed to the top court, with Samuels-Cooper challenging the ruling against her qualifications and Mock arguing in response he should not have had to exhaust his administrative remedies because he was up against someone who shouldn't have been on the ballot in the first place.
Wednesday's ruling affirmed Samuels-Cooper is not qualified for the job and dismissed Mock's appeal as moot, meaning it was irrelevant after the first ruling was affirmed.
Mock took over as coroner after serving as deputy coroner in Clarendon County for 21 years. He was appointed coroner in February by Gov. Henry McMaster following the death of Hayes Samuels Jr., Samuels-Cooper's brother.
This race is to complete Samuels Jr.'s unexpired term.
"I'm glad it's over so I can move on now to do the things I want to do in the coroner's office," Mock said Wednesday. "I'm looking forward to two more years."
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