Lawsuit filed against state representative, GOP

NewsChannel 15 has obtained a copy of a lawsuit filed by Sheila Gallagher against South Carolina State Representative Kristopher Crawford, Florence County Republican Party Chairman Bill Pickle, the South Carolina Election Commission, the Florence County Election Commission, and Speaker of the South Carolina House Bobby Harrell.

Gallagher is the Chairman of the Florence County Democratic Party but has filed the suit as an individual.

She's seeking a declaratory judgement asking that Crawford be suspended from office for crimes of moral turpitude.

Crawford is a Republican and represents District 63 in Florence County.

In April of 2010, he was charged with seven counts of failure to file his tax returns. Prosecutors with the state attorney general's office say Crawford did not file state income taxes on time from 2004 to 2007.

Crawford has denied the charges.

Crawford was indicted on the misdemeanor charges and his trial ended in a mistrial last March. The attorney general's office hasn't set a re-trial date.

Gallagher's lawsuit asks that Crawford's suspension be retroactive to April 9, 2010.

M.W. Trey Cockrell, with the Cockrell law firm, is representing Gallagher.

"So in immediately as April 9, 2010 that's over two years ago, Mr. Crawford has been continually maintaining his position, has not been suspended. The Speaker of the House has not suspended him. He's continually drawing a paycheck as a House member and enjoying all the benefits of being a House member," said Cockrell.

The lawsuit cites South Carolina Code of Law 8-13-560(1) that a member of the General Assembly who is indicted in a state court for a crime that is a felony, a crime that involves moral turpitude must be suspended immediately without pay by the presiding officer of the House.

It says the suspension remains in effect until the public official is acquitted, convicted, pleads guilty or pleads nolo contendere.

In a telephone interview with NewsChannel 15, Crawford says Gallagher is obviously still upset because he beat her in an election two years ago to represent District 63. He says this lawsuit is an attempt to subvert the will of the people.

The suit also says Crawford was illegally certified to run as a candidate in November because he should have been suspended.

It goes on to say if Crawford would have been suspended it would make him a non-public official, and he would not have been exempt as a public official from filing a statement of economic interests, in accordance with state law.

Gallagher seeks a declaration that the Florence County Republican Party, State Republican Party, State Election Commission and Florence County Election Commission improperly certified Crawford as a candidate to run for office in November.

Executive Director for the South Carolina Republican party Matt Moore commented on the suit.

"Voters are tired of lawsuits seeking to prevent free and fair elections," Moore said. "This lawsuit seems to be more of the same - it's a last minute attempt by the Democrats to prevent those voters from having choices."

Crawford's Democratic opponent, Austin Smith, sent a statement to NewsChannel 15 about the lawsuit.

"I believe that the law should be followed and no one is above it," Smith said. "Both Representative Crawford and Speaker Harrell need to be held accountable for their respective conduct and it appears that this suit will do just that."

Smith was arrested in July by Florence police for underage drinking and hindering a police investigation.

Officers say he was found walking in the woods off of Cherokee Road. Officers say he smelled of alcohol and his eyes were bloodshot and speech slurred.

Smith says he pleaded guilty to the charges against him and paid a fine. The issue is now resolved.

No word on when this lawsuit against Crawford will be heard.