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Murrells Inlet magistrate search resumes

The search for a new Murrells Inlet magistrate judge is on.

State Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, said he is accepting new applications and will also review the applications of those who previously sought the position.

Former nominee Dave Jolliff withdrew Friday after months of outcry from Murrells Inlet residents and officials who were upset that Jolliff was an outsider.

They complained because he had been suspended by the Horry County Police Department for two alcohol-related incidents while he was employed there, and because they said the selection process wasn't open enough.

Cleary said he respects and accepts Jolliff's decision, but "I regret that it has come to this.

"I consider Mr. Jolliff to be a fine young man who has dedicated his life to law enforcement. It is patently unfair that he and his family have become the targets of a political firestorm.

"Worse, I am concerned that such vicious and vindictive behavior will discourage good people from offering themselves for public service," Cleary said in a letter released Monday.

Tuesday, Cleary said he had already received eight or nine new applications for the seat that will be vacated by Judge William Moeller at the end of June when he reaches mandatory retirement age.

Murrells Inlet residents say they hope the selection process will be more open this time around.

Bill Chandler, president of Preserve Murrells Inlet, said he hopes Cleary will listen to the residents.

"There are a lot of good candidates out there," he said.

S.C. Rep. Kevin Ryan, R-Pawleys Island, said "it is my hope that our Senate delegation will move forward with selecting a more well-qualified nominee in a manner that is more open, transparent and welcoming of public input."

Ryan sent a letter to Gov. Nikki Haley's office opposing Jolliff's nomination.

He said in the letter that Jolliff "moved to Georgetown County only months ago, seemingly for the sole purpose of being eligible to serve in this position.

"Since news of his pending nomination became public, many people in our community have raised legitimate concerns about his qualifications and fitness to serve in this important role."

Paula Benson, staff attorney for the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the qualifications for a magistrate judge are being a U.S. citizen 21 or older, being a resident of the state for at least five years and passing two qualification exams.

To be considered as a nominee, the candidate has to have combined passing scores on both the Watson-Glaser and the Wonderlic Personal tests, she said.

Those tests, often referred to as the magistrate applicant exams, are administered at state technical colleges.

She said the county's Senate legislative delegation chooses its nominee, sends the nominee to the governor's office for its approval and then the full Senate votes on the appointment.

The Georgetown County Senate Delegation includes Cleary and Sen. Yancey McGill.

Ryan said in his letter to the governor's office that "it would not normally be my place to get involved with the magistrate appointment process, but I cannot sit by idly and allow thousands of my constituents to be adversely affected by the questionable judgment of the Georgetown County Senate delegation."

Cleary said he strongly encourages those who apply to be from Georgetown County.

"I won't say it would be impossible" to nominate someone from another county, but Jolliff's move from the Murrells Inlet area of Horry County to the Murrells Inlet area of Georgetown County "was enough to have people talk about him."

Cleary said he will look through both the old and new applications to find the next qualified applicant. Cleary said to apply or for more information on the position, contact him at his senate e-mail address or by calling his legislative secretary at (803) 212-6100.

Cleary did not specifically mention Department of Natural Resources Sgt. Steve Pop, who was the man many Murrells Inlet residents assumed would be the nominee for the position, but Ryan said Cleary had indicated that the previous decision came down to a choice between Jolliff and Pop.