The criminal conviction of a former county sheriff has been affirmed by the South Carolina Supreme Court.
Will Lewis was convicted of common law misconduct in office and misconduct by a public officer while sheriff of Greenville County. He was accused of misusing his position and county resources to pursue an affair with his former assistant, Savannah Nabors.
Nabors resigned from her position in April 2017 after informing Lewis that she would prefer their relationship to be “nonsexual,” to which Lewis replied that there would have to be changes, including her not accompanying him to meetings and on other work trips, according to today’s court opinion.
Following her resignation, Nabors accused Lewis of improprieties on a work trip to Charlotte via her personal blog in August of 2017. She then filed a civil lawsuit, accompanied by several recorded conversations between her and Lewis.
Lewis held a press conference in 2017, admitting to the affair but denying allegations of assault, rape, or stalking. He maintained their encounter was consensual.
Following a South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division investigation, Lewis was indicted in April 2018 for common law misconduct in office and obstruction of justice.
In his appeal, Lewis’ attorney argued that “section 8-1-80 is unconstitutionally vague because it does not define the terms listed, encourages arbitrary enforcement, and fails to put a reasonable person on notice of what conduct is prohibited,” according to the opinion.
The state argued in response that “Lewis does not have the standing to challenge the statute on vagueness grounds because the terms in section 8-1-80 clearly apply to his conduct. Additionally, the State asserts the terms employed have recognized legal meanings, thereby adequately informing public officials of prohibited conduct. The State further contends the statute is not unconstitutionally overbroad because the provision does not implicate private conduct or speech.”
The Supreme Court agreed.
Justice John Few noted in the filing “…if there was overwhelming evidence Lewis was guilty of misconduct in office on one of the State’s other theories, we should not reverse the conviction. The Solicitor laid out the State’s case in compelling terms in other sections of his closing argument, without relying on his argument Lewis committed fraud. The majority summarizes the argument in reaching its conclusion “the statute clearly applies to the conduct at issue here.” I agree. In my view, the irrefutable facts that Lewis hired the inexperienced Nabors at an absurdly high salary, showered her with perks and favors that bore no relationship to her work-related responsibilities (particularly the new Ford Explorer with “police package”), aggressively used those undeserved benefits to pressure her into a sexual relationship, openly threatened to withdraw the benefits if she did not give in to his sexual advances, and did all this at the expense of taxpayers, leaves no doubt whatsoever Lewis is guilty of the crime ‘misconduct in office’.”
Read the full Supreme Court opinion here.