Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews has been sued for the third time since taking office only a few months ago. While we aren’t legal experts, we do see a few interesting developments here, the first one being that Matthews has been no shrinking violet when it comes to making statements about the way the department was run prior to his election. Of course that’s not uncommon in South Carolina law enforcement circles; after all, sheriffs are elected and not appointed, and politics is part of the process. Some say Matthews continued his criticism of former Sheriff Steve McCaskill for too long after being elected, and that is one of the things the courts will decide -- and whether that criticism harmed McCaskill.
Public figures -- and former elected officials, such as McCaskill -- have a tough row to hoe in winning lawsuits. Generally, because they have held themselves up to public scrutiny, they must prove that there was “actual malice” involved before they can win libel- and slander-related suits. That’s a difficult task, but one McCaskill and his attorney felt was worth the risk.
The other two suits come from former employees of the legal/judicial system in Kershaw County. Interestingly, Matthews didn’t mention any of the three by names in any of his comments. Also odd is the fact that when deputies arrived at one of the plaintiff’s businesses after a robbery had been reported there, former Sheriff McCaskill was already there.
The same attorney is representing all three plaintiffs. We don’t pretend to know how he is charging them -- whether it’s a flat fee or a percentage of any award that is won, the so-called “contingency” basis that is used so often in civil suits -- but we have long felt the legal system in this country should be more like that of the United Kingdom, where plaintiffs who sue but lose must pay the defendants’ legal fees. But that’s another matter for another time.
In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how these suits unfold.