Conflict Check: South Carolina Senator Representing Duke Energy In Wrongful Death Case

Relationships like this show why Palmetto State government needs a major transparency upgrade …

On the morning of August 12, 2017, Stephen Cantey of Florence county, South Carolina and his son-in-law William Lawrence Griffith were both hard at work. The two had been tasked with performing required maintenance on deer stands at the Lucky 13 Hunting Club located in Williamsburg county, South Carolina. Their job that morning included cleaning the stands, removing any weeds and vegetation surrounding them, cutting tree limbs and checking for wasps.

Oh, and they only had a week to get the work done or they would face a fine of up to $100 per stand.

At around 10:00 a.m. EDT, Cantey and Griffith found themselves working at deer stand number 27 – located in a field transected diagonally by overhead electric distribution lines owned by Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy Progress.

You may already be able to see where this story is going …

The overhead lines were allegedly “sagging” and “lowered” around stand 27 – while a utility pole in the middle of the field was said to be “leaning at an angle and unsupported by a guy wire forcing the overhead electric distribution lines to sag further and hang closer to deer stand 27.”

Guy wires are tensioned cables that add stability to freestanding structures.

According to a lawsuit (.pdf) filed in Williamsburg county in April of 2018, the sagging lines on this particular pole were “in violation of Duke’s policies.”

What happened as a result of these sagging wires? A horrific tragedy …

“While attempting to exit the stand, Mr. Griffith came into contact with electricity from the overhead lines,” the lawsuit’s narrative alleged. “Upon seeing Mr. Griffith’s state of electrocution, Mr. Cantey attempted to pull Mr. Griffith away from the electrical current. After touching Mr. Griffith, Mr. Cantey was also electrocuted and lost consciousness. After regaining consciousness, Mr. Cantey again tried and, successfully, pulled Mr. Griffith from the electrical current. Mr. Griffith was pronounced dead at 11:20 a.m. on August 12, 2017.”

As you can no doubt imagine, Duke is accused of host of negligent actions in connection with the death of Griffith (and the injury to Cantey), including “failing to properly install, inspect, maintain, and/ or repair electrical distribution lines hung in violation of national, state, local, and industry codes, laws, and regulations, including the NESC, and company standards and policies.”

To be clear: We are not taking a position as to the merits of this case. What happened to Griffith and Cantey was obviously beyond tragic, and our prayers go out everyone impacted by what happened to them. But it is not the particulars of the legal dispute that drew our attention to this case so much as it was the name of one of the attorneys who was referenced in a recent filing related to it.

Take a look …

(Click to view)

(Via: S.C. Third Judicial Circuit)

That is the final page of a scheduling order in the case issued earlier this month listing state senator Ronnie Sabb of Greeleyville, S.C. as one of Duke’s attorneys of record. According to our sources, this is one of several cases in which Sabb has been retained to represent the energy giant.

Does Duke have business before the state of South Carolina?

Um … yes. Lots of it. In fact, the company is said to be among those bidding to purchase failed state-owned utility Santee Cooper. And its lobbyists are reportedly working overtime in pursuit of this very objective.

So … how much is Duke paying Sabb for his services?

That is a good question … unfortunately, we do not know. And we may never know, depending on how Sabb chooses to disclose his economic interests to the S.C. State Ethics Commission (SCSEC).

We scrolled through several of the veteran lawmaker’s online disclosure statements but could not find anything linking him to the company. In some years, though, Sabb did not report any income from his law firm – which strikes us as highly suspicious.

Our views on all of this? First, we have no issue with state lawmakers representing companies with business before the state. Obviously, we object to lawmakers appointing the judges who hear those court cases … but we understand that lawyer-legislators have to make a living.

Our issue comes when such relationships are not disclosed … and when lawmakers cross the ethical line and decide to sponsor bills, lobby their colleagues, cast votes or take other official actions on behalf of the companies paying them. Or, as is more often the case, when they work “unofficially” behind the scenes on behalf of these clients.

As far as we are concerned, it should go without saying that if you are an elected or appointed official receiving outside pay from an entity with business before the state, it is inappropriate for you to do anything on their behalf within the public arena.

That means recusing yourself from all votes or official actions and refraining from engaging in any unofficial advocacy …

(Click to view)

(Via: Travis Bell Photography)

If government officials refuse to abide by that basic tenet, more radical reforms must be considered …

More importantly, it is becoming clear to us that transparency in government – which was all the rage a decade ago under former governor Nikki Haley – desperately needs to become part of the conversation once again.

In addition to the SCSEC initiating a top-to-bottom overhaul of its antiquated, user-unfriendly campaign finance database, a fundamental rethinking of income transparency in South Carolina is long-overdue – and not just as it relates to state lawmakers. Elected and appointed officials in all branches of government need to have draconian new disclosure requirements imposed upon them – and the information obtained by these new mandates must be posted online for everyone to see. In real time.

Furthermore, those found in violation of these new reporting rules must face real consequences – not the sort of political “justice” that is currently being doled out in the Palmetto State.

But we have been making this point for yearsand lawmakers have refused to take action.

The bottom line is simple: If existing laws permit corruption (which they do), then “leaders” will behave in a corrupt manner (which they are).

The only way to change the behavior is to change the laws – and create a disincentive to the pervasive smash-and-grab thievery that infects this banana republic. Unfortunately, lawmakers are disinclined to adopt such reforms because they benefit from the thievery.

Until that changes … nothing changes.



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