A judge has thrown out a lawsuit that demanded a Confederate flag and other items be returned to the York County Courthouse main courtroom.
Judge Jack Kimball ruled Thursday that the lawsuit filed by Russell Walker against York County Clerk of Court David Hamilton has no standing because Walker lives in North Carolina. Kimball also ruled the lawsuit has no merit because there has been no action by a court beforehand.
The lawsuit was called a mandamus, an attempt to force a public official to act. Until Walker’s filing, no lawsuit had been filed asking a court to determine if Hamilton, who did not return the Confederate items to the courtroom after a long renovation, has the right to make that decision.
About 20 Confederate flag supporters were outside the courthouse before and during the hearing. Some carried Confederate flags and signs, demanding the public be able to vote on the issue. The South Carolina heritage act gives sole authority to the state legislature to change Confederate and other monuments and memorials. The Heritage Act was made law by South Carolina’s legislature in 2000.
There was a heavy police presence outside and inside the courthouse by York County Sheriff’s Office deputies and York Police Department officers. Tolson said there were no incidents.
The Herald and heraldonline.com reported Wednesday that police planned an extra presence.
Some Confederate flag supporters voiced displeasure at Kimball’s ruling.
The hearing came about because York County’s lawyer, Michael Kendree, wanted the case dismissed. He said there were other legal reasons.
Kendree said in a letter to the S.C. Attorney General’s Office in March that county officials believe the flag, and pictures of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, are neither a memorial nor monument. He said they are not subject to the South Carolina heritage act.
The attorney general has not issued an opinion on York County’s stance.
Several flags and pictures were in the courthouse main courtroom for decades. They were removed during renovations, then not put back up.
Walker filed the lawsuit in June, claiming the S.C. Heritage Act requires Hamilton to put the items back.
But Kimball ruled no court has yet heard any evidence, and that no court has asked if the flags are memorials or monuments.
“There is no case,” Kimball said to Walker. “You are unaffected...You didn’t know they (the flag and pictures) were gone until somebody told you.”
Kendree declined to comment after the hearing. But Walker had plenty to say.
He called the judicial system “corrupt” after the hearing.
After court, Walker, who is from Aberdeen, N.C., said someone else from South Carolina would have to file a lawsuit to force York County to put the items back. The items were removed during courthouse renovations that were finished earlier this year.
Walker conceded he had made “pleading mistakes” with the lawsuit. He said the issue has enough public importance for anyone to ask that the law be followed.
Walker said the effort is not about the Confederate flag. He said it is about Hamilton, who is in charge of the courthouse, upholding the law.
“State law says he can’t take (Confederate items) down,” Walker said after court.
No other courtrooms in York County in any of the three courthouses have Confederate flags.
When asked after court if he noticed that the courtroom where the hearing was held had no Confederate flags, Walker said it didn’t matter. He said the law is what matters.
There were brusque exchanges in court between Kimball and Walker, who represented himself.
Walker said, “I expect Mr. Hamilton to follow the law,” and Kimball responded, “It wasn’t the North Carolina legislature was it?’
York County Clerk of Court David Hamilton made the decision to remove the Confederate items from the main courtroom in the York County Courthouse. He made the following statement late Thursday:
“As the Clerk of Court for York County for over 20 years, I have strived to maintain the integrity of the
people who have elected me to represent them. The law clearly states that the Clerk of Court has
“charge” of the courthouse and I have upheld that responsibility for over two decades and continue to
operate the York County Courthouse with the highest of standards to serve the people of York County.
Since the reopening of the York County Historical Courthouse in January of this year, I was put into the
position of making a decision that interests the citizens of York County as well as many people from all
over the United States of America. I have received hundreds of emails and countless telephone calls
regarding the flags and portraits that were inside the courtroom prior to the renovation and have
listened to these concerns.
The renovation of the Historical Courthouse took several years and I was not going to make a hasty
decision that could potentially cause irrevocable harm to the people of this County. I clearly could not
make a decision that would be favorable to everyone involved. Therefore, I reached out to the South
Carolina Attorney General for an Opinion as to whether or not any items that were inside the courtroom
prior to the renovation would fall under the Heritage Act and if so, where these items could be placed in
order to comply with the Act. To date, I have not received that Opinion.
When I was first sworn in as York County Clerk of Court in 1997, I took an Oath of Office to exercise the
duties of the office to which I was elected. I promised to discharge the duties thereof and to preserve
and protect and defend the Constitution of this State and of the United States, so help me God. I took
that Oath seriously then and it remains my Oath today.
It is my goal that this matter be resolved quickly and smoothly.