Concerned Citizens of Atlantic Beach’s pursuit of justice in the state of South Carolina doesn’t come easy.
On Friday, the group of over twenty held a protest outside the office of 15th Circuit Solicitor Greg Hembree.
They say his office needs to indict members of the Atlantic Beach Elections Commission for voter fraud.
The group utilized their first amendment right to express their outrage at the removal of Town Council candidate Windy Price from the Nov. 3 election ballot by the election commission. According to Price the election commission informed her that she was ineligible because she was not a resident of Atlantic Beach.
Alice Graham chairwoman of the town of Atlantic Beach Municipal Election Commission concluded that Price was not a resident because she resides with the current embattled Mayor, Retha Pierce.
Graham contacted Pierce’s landlord who resides in Virginia to inquire as to whether Price was his tenant. Connie McCollough who was traveling in New York at the time informed Graham that he did not rent to Price. Graham sent McCollough a letter to sign to that effect.
After McCollough signed the letter not written by him, he was contacted by Pierce who reminded him that not only does the lease agreement permit her to have people reside with her, but she had infrrmed him that Price would be moving in.
The call prompted McCollough to review the lease agreement. McCollough found that Pierce was correct, and he admits that Pierce had informed him of Price. McCollough had not remembered the telephone call from Pierce informing him of Price.
McCollough promptly shot off a letter to Graham informing her of the mistake.
Correcting this error seems easy enough, however, Price the founder of the Concerned Citizens group who is also the pastor of the Atlantic Beach Christian Methodist Episcopal Church indicated during the Friday protest that she was also denied a spot on the ballot because she was misled about a deadline to turn in an economic interest form when declaring her candidacy. Price insist that she was told that she could either file the form 5 days after declaring her candidacy, or prior to taking the oath for office.
The State Ethics Act requires that candidates complete this form at the time of becoming a candidate and file with the official responsible for the election. A copy of the form is to be provided to all candidates at the time they sign their declaration of candidacy or upon the filing of their petition to appear on the ballot. If a candidate fails to complete the form at the time of filing as a candidate, his/her name shall not appear on the ballot. If through error or omission, a candidate’s name appears on the election ballot, the candidate shall not be certified subsequent to the election.
Unfortunately without reviewing the law herself, Price opted for the latter. This is a lesson in politics that I’m sure she will not forget.
The protestors claim Hembree is aware of such irregularities in Atlantic Beach.
“This protest is about why are these people allowed to continue to break the laws, and you [the solicitor] do nothing about it,” Price said. “Atlantic Beach’s problem is not Retha Pierce; Atlantic Beach’s problem is that you, Hembree, could’ve stepped up and did your job to remove people and dismantle this mountain of corruption. You are responsible for this corruption because you allowed this corruption to go on. My name should be on that ballot.”
According to the SunTimesNews.Com Hembree said he didn’t actually see Friday’s protest, but that it would not make a difference on how his office would operate.
“I don’t initiate cases because you get a little group of people that don’t have anything better to do than to stand out there with posters in their hands. It has no value or effect on how we work on cases in the justice system,” he said. “Quite frankly, it requires a lot of time, effort, energy and money to undertake these sort of large-scale investigations … For such a small town, it sucks up a lot of resources without any real lasting change, and that lasting change has got to come from within.”
Hembree resorted to the waste of resources defense when his office was confronted about the illegal use of subpoenas by his office in prosecuting an embezzlement case.
S.C. state law authorize the clerk of court only to authorize a subpoena. S.C. state law also limits the solicitors powers in issuing the orders for investigative purposes.
Hembree’s office illegally stamped the Horry County and Georgetown County clerk of court’s names on 28 subpoenas.
Some of the documents had Clerk of Court Melanie Huggins’ name stamped on printed subpoenas from Georgetown County where Alma White presided as the clerk of court.
Hembree’s investigator, Stephen Brown, testified the first subpoena he stamped and issued in the embezzlement investigation was on Nov. 14, 2008.
The defendants were arrested and charged with the crimes nine months later.
The proper practice is to obtain a search warrant to obtain evidence prior to an arrest. The Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure requires that a judge review the probable cause for a search and approve before the search is conducted.
Police and prosecutors cannot get around the Fourth Amendment by using a fake subpoena instead of seeking a search warrant.
Hembree testified in his defense of the illegal practice of issuing subpoenas as an investigative tool. Hembree insisted that having the clerk’s office stamp and authorize each subpoena was a waste of time, money, and resources. A review of the Bill Of Rights afforded to every citizen by our U.S. Constitution doesn’t seem to support Mr. Hembree’s argument. As a matter of fact, the Bill Of Rights afford those who can’t afford a lawyer the right to legal representation.
As a result of using the fake subpoenas in the case Mr. Hembree had no other choice but to recuse himself and his office from prosecuting the embezzlement case.
The case was turned over to the S.C. Attorney General’s office.
It was because of the “illegal” subpoenas that South Carolina assistant attorney general Curtis Pauling had to offer a plea deal which consisted of probation and restitution and no incarceration. The Judge suppressed all evidence gathered as a result of the fake subpoenas. In other words the evidence could not be used in court and the plea deal was the only way to get any type of justice in the matter.
Neither Hembree or any one from his office was held criminally liable. Hembree continues to insist that he and his office have done nothing wrong because the rubber stamping of subpoenas is practiced statewide. Hembree did however inform the court during his sworn testimony that he had discontinued the practice in his office.
Mr. Hembree and the Concerned Citizens protesters seem to agree on his statement about ” lasting change has got to come from within”. Perhaps what they don’t agree on is the “within”.
The protesters target of Mr. Hembrees office suggest that they think change needs to start with his office, for the law requires clean hands in the dismantling of a mountain of corruption.
Price said she thought the protest was effective because it took the matters outside of the town limits.
“This was us saying, since you won’t listen, local leaders, we’re taking this outside the box,” she said. “To us, we felt we were very effective.”
Elections will be held Nov. 3 for two seats on the Atlantic Beach Town Council.
What’s Your Take On The Matter? Register and/or sign in and sound off!
You can also twitter the febone_blog