By Paul Gable
Earlier this week Grand Strand Daily published a story detailing questions about Alan Clemmons and his resignation from the SC House and subsequent application for Horry County Master in Equity appointment.
New information extracted from state government archives increase suspicions about the truth behind the Clemmons resignation subsequent application.
Clemmons won the Republican Primary for House District 107 on June 9, 2020 for nomination to what would have been his 10th consecutive term as a representative.
However, just one month later, at least as early as July 12, 2020, it became public knowledge that Clemmons was seriously considering resigning from his House seat immediately. Five days later, Clemmons notified House Speaker Jay Lucas of his resignation from office and sent an affidavit to the SC Election Commission, withdrawing from the nomination, stating he needed to spend more time with his family and his law firm had recently acquired new clients who would demand considerable time and work.
Clemmons had to swear to the Election Commission his resignation and withdrawal was for “non-political reasons” in order for the state Republican Party to schedule a special primary election to choose a new nominee.
According to the SC Senate Journal of March 5, 2015, Gov. Nikki Haley transmitted to the Senate the reappointment of Cynthia Ward Howe to a new six-year term as Horry County Master in Equity “with the term to commence July 31, 2015, and to expire July 31, 2021.”
On June 22, 2020, the Judicial Merit Selection Commission (JMSC) issued a media release announcing the commission was accepting applications for the Judicial offices listed in the release. Included in that release was the following, “A vacancy will exist in the office currently held by the Honorable Cynthia Graham Howe, Master in Equity, Horry County. The successor will serve a new term of that office, which will expire December 31, 2027.”
(Master in Equity judges are appointed to six-year terms. There was no explanation why a five-month gap existed between the end of Howe’s term and the apparent beginning of a new six-year term on December 31, 2021 to end December 31, 2027.)
Four days later, on June 26, 2020, the JMSC issued a “Media Release Amended” in which the only change was removal of the advertisement for applications for the Horry County Master in Equity position. The chairman of the JMSC for 2020 was Horry County Sen. Luke Rankin.
It is normal for the JMSC to advertise for applications at least one year in advance for judgeship positions that will be vacant the next year. For example, advertisement for applications for the Greenville County Master in Equity position, current term due to expire on December 31, 2021, was included on both the June 22, 2020 JMSC media release and June 26, 2020 JMSC amended media release.
The question becomes why were application requests for the Horry County Master in Equity position stopped four days after initially announced?
Was it because Clemmons decided he wanted to apply for the position, in direct contradiction of his affidavit to the election commission, and because Rankin was the current chairman of the JMSC?
State law requires legislators to be out of office for at least one year before they become eligible for appointment to a judgeship. As noted in the earlier article referenced above, Clemmons worked hard during the primary runoff campaign between Rankin and John Gallman to help Rankin get reelected.
On June 21, 2021, the JMSC issued a media release advertising applications were being accepted in which the following was stated, “A vacancy will exist in the office currently held by the Honorable Cynthia Graham Howe, Master in Equity, Horry County. The successor will serve the remainder of the unexpired term, which will expire June 30, 2027.
To sum up:
Applications for an upcoming vacancy in the Horry County Master in Equity position were initially advertised on June 22, 2020. Four days later, that position was no longer accepting applications. One year later, on June 21, 2021, applications were again being accepted for a vacancy in the position.
However, Howe was appointed by Gov. Haley to a term ending July 31, 2021. The 6/22/20 advertisement said the appointment would be to a new term ending December 31, 2027 but the 6/21/2021 advertisement said it would be to serve out a current term ending June 30, 2027.
How did Howe get reappointed to a new term when applications for that new term were stopped four days after it was initially announced and there was apparently no normal public process before the reappointment? Even for judgeship appointments in South Carolina this looks very suspicious.
Having extended Howe in office with some apparent backroom completely out of the public eye manner, the JMSC now advertises an upcoming vacancy, which will be filled sometime in early 2022 once the screening, voting by local legislative delegation, recommendation to Gov. Henry McMaster and confirmation by the Senate takes place. The process allows Clemmons to be safely out of office for a period of time for which would not allow any challenge under state law, should he be appointed.
Will Clemmons get the votes necessary from the local legislative delegation to secure recommendation of his appointment to the governor?
Clemmons helped Rankin in a difficult reelection campaign against Gallman.
Clemmons helped Sen. Stephen Goldfinch in a difficult election campaign against opponent Reese Boyd in 2016.
In both campaigns, Clemmons made highly inaccurate statements about Gallman and Boyd to help Rankin and Goldfinch.
Clemmons hired Heather Crawford to work in his behalf for five years paying her approximately $150,000 out of his campaign account in that time.
Russell Fry is a partner of Crawford in Crescent Communications political consulting and a campaign rally for Rankin in which Gallman was vigorously attacked was held in the parking lot of Fry’s law firm.
Case Brittain is the beneficiary of Clemmons resignation and later endorsement from Clemmons to help Brittain succeed Clemmons as the SC House District 107 representative.
Anybody ever hear of ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine’?