Senator Answers GOP Allegations

With a little more than a week left before the Nov. 6 general election, State Senator Creighton Coleman (D-17) has responded to allegations of unethical practices, disseminated by the Fairfield County Republican Party (GOP) and its chairman, Kevin Thomas, in their campaign for Coleman’s challenger, Robert Carrison.

In email blasts sent across District 17, and on the Fairfield GOP’s Web site,, Coleman’s opposition has, in recent weeks, suggested the Senator engaged in unethical behavior by participating in a trip to Turkey last year. Research by The Voice found that the Turkey trip was nothing more than a diplomatic junket taken annually by politicians and other influential Americans, and that it cost the taxpayers of this state nothing (see Oct. 12 editorial “Here’s Mud in Your Eye”). A similar blast and Web post from the organization dated Oct. 11 states that Coleman has appointed his law firm partners (Carol Tolen and Paul Swearingen) as county magistrates and questions Coleman’s ethics in doing so. The same post also states that Coleman appointed the son of County Council member Carolyn Robinson (who also works for Coleman’s firm) to a post with the County Veteran’s Affairs Office.

“Is it ethical to appoint your law partners local magistrates?” the post asks. “Also, let’s not forget Carolyn Robinson who is running for re-election for County Council. She is part of the same good ole boy & girl system that Coleman is. Let me get this right, she works for our State Senator Coleman as a paralegal. Coleman also works for the town of Winnsboro as their attorney. He then appoints Robinson’s son to work at the County Veterans office and the son is not a veteran.”

While Coleman has been silent on the Fairfield County GOP’s previous posts, these most recent accusations have prompted him to respond.

“These people would rather tell a lie than do a little bit of research and tell the truth,” Coleman said last week.

Research of the magistrate appointments bear out Coleman’s frustrations.

Tolen, according to documents obtained by The Voice, was appointed by Coleman’s predecessor, Sen. Linda Short, in 2005 (Coleman was elected to Senate in 2008). Swearingen was appointed by Coleman, but in 2010. At that time, Swearingen worked for the Koon and Cook law firm at 229 S. Congress St. in Winnsboro. Nearly a year later, after Koon and Cook had closed their Winnsboro office and Swearingen was looking for a place to practice, Coleman said he opened his doors to him.

Coleman said state senators make recommendations of such appointments to the Governor’s Office, and the Governor makes the actual appointment with the advice and consent of the full Senate. Both Swearingen and Tolen, therefore, were appointed by Republican Governor Mark Sanford.

Since their original appointments, both Swearingen and Tolen have come up for reappointment, and the record reflects that Coleman has recommended them for retention.

“That is routinely done,” Coleman said. “Unless they’ve done a terrible job or gotten in trouble with the law, there’s no reason not to reappoint them.”

Furthermore, Coleman said, once a judge is appointed a considerable monetary investment is made on their part to take classes and earn their certification.

“If they’re doing a good job, they need to keep it,” Coleman said. “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel every time you get a new senator. With the backlog of cases that we have, it would throw the whole system into disarray.”

Coleman added that, as an attorney, he has never appeared before Tolen or Swearingen in court.

“I never have and I never will,” Coleman said.

As for the appointment of Robinson’s son to the VA office, Coleman said the Fairfield County GOP’s allegations were “totally false.”

A letter obtained by The Voice shows that, in March of 2011, Coleman delegated the management of the Fairfield County Veterans Affairs Office to Davis Anderson, Fairfield County Deputy Administrator.

Coleman said that while the law states that veterans get preference in hiring for positions within the County VA itself, Robinson’s son holds a secretary position to which that law does not apply.

Reached for comment last week, Thomas said only that he stands behind his posts.

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