Mock vs. Samuels-Cooper is still undecided
by Laura Stone | July 27, 2018 4:54 pm
The case Coroner Bucky Mock brought against LaNette Samuels-Cooper, the state and county Democratic parties, and the state and county election boards resumed this morning.
Judge Cothran opened the session with partially granting the motion of Ronnie Sabb, who represents Samuels-Cooper, which was made last Friday. Sabb had requested the case be dismissed because Mock had not exhausted all available means to protest the issue with the Democratic Party.
Cothran stated he agreed precedent had been set which warranted his dismissal of the question of the date Samuels-Cooper filed. However, he stated he felt the issue of her qualifications to be coroner based on state law was indeed his to decide.
After brief opening statements, Samuels-Cooper took the witness stand at 9:45 a.m. Under Tyson’s questioning, she agreed it was important for a coroner to be qualified. Tyson walked through the state statute requirements for becoming a Coroner and questioned her regarding her affidavits she filed.
Samuels-Cooper says she filed her original affidavit, which was deficient because she had not checked any of the seven boxes in the section which asks how you qualify as a coroner candidate. She stated Trav Robinson from the State Democratic Party called her to discuss it. After discussion with her, she asserts Robinson told her she should check the box stating she has a bachelor’s degree and one year of death investigation experience.
Tyson then questioned her regarding her original affidavit, where she failed to mark any boxes in that question, asking if it meant she was qualified or not qualified.
“I wasn’t sure,” said Samuels-Cooper.
Tyson asked if Samuels-Cooper agreed that in interviews with the Manning Times and the Sumter Item and in public forums she stated she did not have death investigation experience. She agreed she had. He asked why she was changing her opinion now.
“Because I now have a better understanding of what I actually did in the Coroner’s Office,” said Samuels-Cooper.
Tyson clarified that she was stating she has a better understanding of what she did in the Coroner’s Office now, but she didn’t have this understanding in March when she filed to run for coroner claiming she had one year of death investigation experience.
“Probably, yeah,” said Samuels-Cooper.
Later Samuels-Cooper stated she had never said she had no experience, simply that she had less experience than Mock but could gain more if given the opportunity, although this is directly contradicted by direct quotes both Manning Times and Sumter Item had from her, stated in an open forum.
Tyson then confirmed with her she has never declared the manner or cause of death but has only collected information such as requesting medical records or autopsy reports. He asked how she could feel she was qualified.
“Because I have a brain and I have eyes,” said Samuels-Cooper.
Tyson then confirmed she had never taken photos or assessed a scene, although she had talked to family. Later he confirmed her talks with the family were to give the family information regarding what the reports said about the deceased individual.
Samuels-Cooper then claimed to have analyzed medical reports for the coroner and to have spoken to a pathologist in various cases 100 times, then changed it to 50-75 times over the years. She claimed pathologists would call her and ask her advice and opinion on cases. Tyson clarified she was providing them with information regarding what was in the files regarding the case.
Tyson clarified she never took a list of evidence at a scene and never issued a death certificate. However, she feels being on call to dispatch coroners for 13 years qualifies as death investigation experience and feels she has gained at least one year of experience over her time with the office.
Tyson asked if she has any death investigation experience according to previous testimony regarding death investigation and what it entails.
“I think I do, but according to this, I don’t have any,” said Samuels-Cooper.
Tyson asked her if she believes she’s qualified to be coroner. When she said yes, he asked how she felt she qualified.
“I think most of the time that I have served in the coroner’s office for 13 years, I gained experience that I need to start out as coroner. By taking the course in August, that will give me more experience,” said Samuels-Cooper. “I think because of the knowledge that I have received from the coroner’s office by working in that office for 13 years, I can be a good coroner. Yes, my answer is yes.”
Kimberly Barr, an attorney with Sabb Law Group, questioned Samuels-Cooper next. She verified Samuels-Cooper’s degree and verified Samuels-Cooper worked in the Coroner’s Office from 2005 until March 2018. Samuels-Cooper repeatedly asserted she was fired because Mock discovered she was going to run for office, as her termination occurred days prior to her filing.
Barr then established Samuels-Cooper is enrolled in a Medicolegal Death Investigation course for coroners in August, entering her course enrollment and hotel registration into evidence. She verified that Samuels-Cooper had spoken to Richland County Coroner Gary Watts, who had told her about the qualifications to become coroner and about the ABMDI certification, which is the only certification program recognized by the state.
Barr then asked her about the same qualifications Tyson had queried. Her testimony contradicted her earlier answers to Tyson. Samuels-Cooper then claimed she had gone to scenes at hospitals and in other areas. She stated she had to attend several with a magistrate, who was called out to a scene when a coroner or deputy coroner was unavailable, and she had to show him how to do a death investigation.
Samuels-Cooper stated she had taken pictures of an autopsy, as well as attended two autopsies. She had also delivered blood samples from Columbia to Charleston to a pathologist.
Samuels-Cooper also stated she had safeguarded effects, called to schedule autopsies and body delivery. She typed up coroner’s reports for the coroner, and she filled out the death certificates, although the Coroner had to sign them.
Next Samuels-Cooper asserted she had identified the decedent, which qualified as death investigation, as she was at the hospital with a death and personally knew the deceased, so could make an identification.
Barr then asked if Samuels-Cooper felt, with all she had done in Clarendon County with the Coroner’s Office, if she felt she had more than 640 hours of death investigation experience.
“I do,” said Samuels-Cooper.
Tyson re-directed, Samuels-Cooper, reminding her of the public statements she had made stating she did not have death investigation experience. She once again asserted she had not said that but had merely stated she had less experience than Mock.
Tyson also established that until January of 2018, Samuels-Cooper was not a county employee. Hayes Samuels, the previous coroner and Samuels-Cooper’s brother, received budget money for secretarial services. He personally paid Samuels-Cooper out of this fund. It wasn’t until after Samuels’ death that Samuels-Cooper began working for Clarendon County as a county employee.
Samuels-Cooper left the stand after an hour and a half and Democratic Party Chair Patricia Pringle took the stand.
Tyson went through the process of a person being placed on the ballot with Pringle. He then asked if Pringle was aware of any concerns raised prior to Samuels-Cooper filing to run for coroner. She said she was not.
Tyson then asked if she was aware of any issues after Samuels-Cooper filed. She confirmed Mock had come to her with the qualifications to be coroner as well as information about ABMDI. She also confirmed when she sent the filing forms up to the South Carolina Democratic Party for them to certify the candidates, she had not sent the information Mock had sent, although she did inform Robinson she was concerned because Samuels-Cooper had not checked any boxes in her original affidavit.
Tyson then entered the April 5 letter from the State Democratic Party, which certified the candidates, into evidence. Samuels-Cooper’s name was on that certification list. He asked Pringle if, after listening to all the testimony regarding the case, she thought Samuels-Cooper was qualified to be the coroner.
“After listening to Ms. Samuels-Cooper testify, I would say yes, she is qualified,” said Pringle.
Sabb questioned Pringle, and she agreed the voters had decided Samuels-Cooper is qualified to run for coroner. Sabb asked Pringle if she thought it was common sense to her that if a coroner or deputy coroner did things, they received death investigation experience for them, but if someone else did those same things, they did not receive death investigation. She stated she did not think that was common sense.
“It’s just not fair,” said Sabb, who then continued to build a case that Samuels-Cooper was only fired from the coroner’s office to keep her from being able to sign up for the ABMDI certification program, which requires an applicant be currently employed at a coroner’s office.
Tyson re-directed, asking Pringle if she agreed that if the law says something, do our opinions on whether it’s common sense or fair really mean anything. Pringle agreed they do not. She left the stand at 12:20 p.m.
Sabb then requested Cothran add estoppel laches to the case, requesting to verbally amend his response to include these as an additional defense. This would prevent Mock from moving forward with the case, requiring Cothran to deny his case, because he had waited too long to pursue the situation. Sabb argued this was the case, as Mock knew of her lack of qualifications at the time she had filed to run for office.
The attorneys for the state election commission and the state Democratic Party also requested laches be attached.
Sabb then moved for a directed verdict in favor of Samuels-Cooper. Cothran denied the motion, and the defense rested its case at 12:45 p.m.
Tyson offered closing remarks, reiterating the fact that Samuels-Cooper had not checked any box on her original affidavit.
“There’s no way any reasonable person could understand how she was qualified,” said Tyson, who then stated she had only checked a box on her second affidavit after she was told which one to check.
Tyson added that she does not qualify under state requirements to run, reading the law that states the deputy coroner is allowed to perform duties of the coroner. However, it doesn’t include administrative assistants.
“Ms. Samuels-Cooper stated in her testimony that she answered the phones, that she was the dispatcher. Does that mean everyone that answers the phone should be given credit for death investigation experience?” asked Tyson. “I have two law clerks who have been sitting here for two days listening to this case. If we take that analysis, does this mean they get credit for being a lawyer for sitting in here?”
Tyson then stated the most important duty of a coroner in a death investigation was to enquire into the manner of death, and Samuels-Cooper has admitted she has not done that. He reiterated she offered valuable services as an office administrator, but the law does not allow for office administrators to be death investigators.
Sabb offered closing arguments as well. He spoke of the Clarendon County voters and the points the defense made regarding Samuels-Cooper’s qualifications. He again asserted Mock should have used a different process first and requested Cothran to reconsider it.
Sabb asserted it was unfair for people who want to become coroner have no method to do so unless already employed as a deputy coroner in order to gain the necessary hours of death investigation. He asked Cothran to set case precedence by insisting Samuels-Cooper be credited with the death investigation experience required for the job, as he felt the requirements were arbitrary and capricious.
“A man is only as good as his information, and candidates for coroner are only as good as their information,” said Sabb. He stated it was an obligation and duty of the Coroner’s Association to allow people to learn to become coroner. He stated the statute mandates she be given the opportunity to go through a course to teach her how.
“I am reminded of Moses and the power that his staff gave and the wonders and the good that it did for people. Samuels-Cooper relies on you now to use your pen as Moses used his staff. Moses parted the waters in order that people might go across on dry land. Your honor, we need you to part these arbitrary and capricious regulations. Judge, we need you to cut through this unnecessary regulation,” said Sabb. He rested for the defense.
Cothran clarified points regarding requirements to apply to the ABMDI certification process. He also clarified that Samuels-Cooper had not been a county employee until January of this year. Cothran then stated he would try to provide an answer regarding his verdict quickly, and court adjourned.
Manning Times will keep you updated as more information becomes available.