The late comedian Lewis Grizzard, whose column appeared in this newspaper, was an oft-married guy who used to joke that there was a bumper sticker reading “Honk If You’ve Been Married To Lewis Grizzard.” Taking a new tack on an old theme, we’re going to start looking for stickers announcing, “Honk If You’ve Sued Sheriff Jim Matthews.”
Four lawsuits have been filed against Matthews: one of them by former Sheriff Steve McCaskill; two by former Kershaw County employees, one of whom has filed multiple lawsuits in the past against various defendants; and the latest by David Dowey, a former deputy who unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic nomination for sheriff last year. There is a common thread in that all four claim Matthews demeaned them through statements he made while he was campaigning for sheriff and shortly after being elected. Some of these suits say the plaintiffs’ reputations were harmed even though Matthews never mentioned them by name. The second common thread is that the suits have all been filed by the same attorney, Lewis Cromer of Columbia.
Under South Carolina’s legal system, Cromer has every right to file such suits. And we certainly don’t pretend to be legal experts. But if every politician who criticizes his predecessors gets sued for such criticism, the courts are going to get pretty crowded. In fact, following that logic, George Bush would be filing a spate of lawsuits against Barack Obama because of Obama’s statements saying it was Bush’s policies that threw the country into recession in the first place. Heck, following that thread, the legal system might still be mired in the mechanics of a Dewey-vs.-Truman suit going back to 1948.
Matthews has said he might counter-sue some of those who have filed these suits. We hope that won’t happen. In fact, we hope these suits will be heard as soon as possible and that this chapter in the county’s history will come to an end. If Matthews is guilty of libeling or slandering people, then a jury should judge him so. But no matter the suits’ outcome, we also hope legislators will take a hard look at reforming a court system that allows people to file civil suits and suffer no damages if they lose.