Clemmons Application for Master in Equity – Déjà vu

By Paul Gable

Recently local media and ran stories that former state representative Alan Clemmons is seeking appointment to the Horry County Master in Equity judgeship.

The Nerve postured a question whether Clemmons’ resignation from his House seat one year ago and his application for the Master in Equity position was a coincidence. When contacted by The Nerve for comment, Clemmons is quoted in its story, “I really have no comments on my application for Master in Equity for Horry County.”

Clemmons resignation from the House came just after current Master in Equity Cynthia Graham Howe announced she would not seek another six-year term after finishing her current term in July 2021. State law requires a member of the General Assembly to be out of office for one year before they can be appointed as a judge or act as a lobbyist.

This seems to be a case of ‘déjà vu all over again’, as Yogi Berra would say.

One year ago, in a story about the special election to replace Clemmons on the November general election ballot, I wrote:

Only two months ago, Alan Clemmons won the regular Republican primary for nomination to what would have been his tenth term as representative for District 107.

“Five weeks later, Clemmons resigned from the House and sent an affidavit to the SC Election Commission citing the necessity of concentrating on his family and law practice as reasons for removing himself as the Republican candidate.

“It is important to note here that Clemmons affirmed to the election commission, under penalty of perjury, that his dropping out as the nominated candidate was for “non-political reasons”, a requirement for the party to conduct a special election to nominate a replacement candidate for the general election.

“Nowhere in Clemmons’ statement did it mention the widely circulated story that Clemmons expects to be selected as the Master in Equity judge for Horry County when the position becomes vacant next July. South Carolina law requires a member of the General Assembly to be out of office for a minimum of one year before they can become a judge or a lobbyist. The Master in Equity position currently pays approximately $180,000 per year. State funded pensions are based on a person’s highest three years of salary.

“Should Clemmons accept appointment for Master in Equity next year, wouldn’t that be a political reason for resigning from the General Assembly considering the necessity of being out of office for one year?” 

One of the first things Clemmons did after resigning as the Republican candidate for House District 107 in the November 2020 general election was endorse Case Brittain, the candidate Clemmons defeated in the regular June 2020 primary.

In the same story quoted above, I wrote:

“In his endorsement, Clemmons said Brittain was one of the first people he called after deciding to resign from the House. That statement falls in line with what numerous sources have reported to me.

“According to those sources, the Myrtle Beach cabal (that group of business owners who like to consider themselves the power brokers in the area) decided to back Brittain as its hand-picked candidate. According to those sources, Mark Lazarus made the first overture to Brittain, promising to work to keep other candidates from filing for the special primary and to obtain an endorsement from Clemmons for Brittain.”

A link to the full story is here:

The Horry County Legislative Delegation will play a big part in deciding who is the next Master in Equity judge for the county. State law requires the Judicial Merit Selection Commission to qualify candidates for judgeships. The Horry County delegation has three members, senators Luke Rankin and Ronnie Sabb and representative Jeff Johnson, on the 10 member commission.

The JMSC sends a list of qualified candidates to the county legislative delegation who will vote on which candidate to recommend to Gov. Henry McMaster. The governor traditionally recommends to the legislature the candidate recommended by the local legislative delegation. The candidate is then voted on by the full legislature. There are three candidates for the Horry County Master in Equity appointment to replace retiring judge Howe, but only Clemmons has former direct ties to the delegation members.

It would seem, considering his application and the one-year requirement to be out of office, the JMSC should question Clemmons on his resignation from the House one year ago and whether his affidavit to the SC Election Commission was true. According to state law, the candidate claiming a non-political reason completely bears the burden of proof for that claim.

The legislative delegation vote also raises several questions.

Heather Crawford worked for Clemmons for the five years preceding her election to the House. During that time, she was paid approximately $150,000 from Clemmons’ campaign fund for campaign consulting and constituent service, according to Clemmons’ filings with the SC Ethics Commission. Clemmons had no opposition in either the primary or general elections during the time Crawford worked for him. When Crawford left to serve in the House, Clemmons did not hire someone to replace her.

One questions Clemmons’ justification for paying Crawford that amount of money from his campaign account when he had no opposition in the three election cycles during that period and when the position was apparently not important enough to justify a replacement.

One also wonders whether Clemmons intends to hire Crawford to work on the Master in Equity staff, a position that would probably not require her to resign her House seat, if he is appointed?

Can Case Brittain fairly choose from among the three candidates for the Master in Equity position when the only reason he is in the House is Clemmons’ resignation?

In a recent comment to a story I wrote about the Russell Fry decision to challenge Tom Rice for the SC 7th Congressional District Republican nomination, a reader wrote about, “…all the RINO neo-Conservatives there are in the South Carolina Legislature…the Horry legislators all belong to the same club. It’s all about them, their ambition, the power they “claim’ to have, their cronies and not us (the voters).”

I submit that statement will be severely tested as the process for choosing the next Master in Equity for Horry County moves forward.

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