There is a reason prosecutors are reluctant to confirm details of plea agreements prior to scheduled court appearances: Things can go sideways fast.
That’s exactly what happened last week in rural Chester county, South Carolina, where suspended county supervisor Shane Stuart was expected to plead guilty to at least two offenses in connection with his September 2020 arrest.
That didn’t happen …
Stuart was indicted by a statewide grand jury last fall on charges of criminal conspiracy, misconduct in office, manufacture of methamphetamine (two counts) and drug trafficking. He was scheduled to stand trial on those charges last week, but the trial was called off when his attorney negotiated a plea agreement with the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson.
At the very last minute, though, Stuart bailed on the deal … telling a circuit court judge he was dumping his attorney, Stanley Myers, and seeking new representation.
Stuart and a pair of co-defendants were accused of participating in a criminal conspiracy to “knowingly manufacture, distribute, dispense, deliver and purchase methamphetamine,” per the 2020 indictments (.pdf). Stuart – who was previously involved in a 2019 hit-and-run controversy in Chester county – was further charged with misconduct in office for spending time “during the official workday” and using “an official government vehicle or vehicles to facilitate methamphetamine trafficking.”
Such acts were, per the indictment, “in breach of his duty of good faith, honesty and accountability to the public.”
Stuart appeared in court last week as expected, but when it came time to plead guilty to misconduct in office and one of the drug charges filed against him – he threw S.C. circuit court judge Eugene C. Griffith Jr. a curveball and demanded new representation.
What gives? Stuart’s former attorney, Myers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, sources close to the suspended supervisor told this news outlet he objected to a drug testing provision of his plea agreement. These sources declined to elaborate further – nor could they explain why Stuart waited to raise this objection until the very last minute (aside from what appears to have been an obvious attempt to deliberately delay his day of reckoning – at taxpayers’ expense).
Given Stuart’s eleventh-hour request for new representation, his plea hearing was cancelled by Griffith – much to the consternation of state prosecutors.
Robert Kittle, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, acknowledged there were “internal issues with the defense” raised at Stuart’s plea hearing – issues which were subsequently addressed during “a closed door meeting with the defense and the judge.”
According to Kittle, a status conference in connection with this case has been scheduled for Friday, November 12, 2021. My guess is Wilson’s office will arrive at that meeting loaded for bear in light of the “fast one” Stuart pulled on them last week.
As I noted previously, Stuart has been suspended from office since his indictment last September. His guilty plea was supposed to have started the clock on a January 2022 special election for this seat – although the victor of that race would not have held office for very long.
Why not? Because voters in Chester county decided to do away with the elected supervisor position entirely during the 2020 election – opting to allow county council members to hire an appointed administrator instead (the way it is done in the vast majority of South Carolina counties). That referendum was overwhelmingly approved by voters – with 9,763 supporting it compared to 5,336 who opposed it. In fact, the controversy surrounding Stuart figured prominently in the 2020 local election.
In addition to Stuart, his two co-defendants are also awaiting trial in connection with this case. No word yet on how Stuart’s shenanigans will impact their cases.
Chester county is a largely rural region located in the Interstate 77 corridor between Charlotte, N.C. and Columbia, S.C. It is home to approximately 33,000 residents.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, in addition to having lots of kids he has LOTS of hats (including that Chicago Blackhawks’ lid pictured above).
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