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Judiciary: Cleary defends choice for inlet magistrate

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

State Sen. Ray Cleary won’t nominate a new Murrells Inlet magistrate until next month, but his choice of a replacement for retiring magistrate Bill Moeller has already come under fire.

Cleary said he will nominate Dave Jolliff, 36, a Murrells Inlet resident and law enforcement officer who has spent the past two years working with federal, state and Horry County authorities to arrest and prosecute high-level drug dealers.

But a large component of inlet residents have their own ideas about who Moeller’s successor should be. They prefer Steve Pop, 41, an officer with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources for 13 years.

Those who support Pop for the job haven’t been quiet about their opinions. Cleary said he has received heavy criticism for his choice, but he’s standing by it.

Cleary interviewed Pop and said he’s “a great guy.”

“I won’t say he isn’t, but it’s my decision to make and I think my candidate is a better fit,” Cleary said. “I could be totally wrong and I’ll be crucified for it in a year or two, but I’m doing what I think is right.”

The appointment is made by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Moeller turns 72 in February, the age at which magistrates must retire.

In seeking a replacement, Cleary said there were several things he was looking for. Topping the list was a Murrells Inlet resident.

Pop lives in Litchfield.

Cleary also wanted someone who “could get along well with people” and would treat everyone who comes to court fairly.

But it was Jolliff’s résumé that put him over the top.

Jolliff, who grew up in the Burgess community in Horry County and moved to Murrells Inlet six months ago, started his career in law enforcement in 1998 as a patrolman with the Horry County Police Department.

He was promoted to supervisor before he transferred to the narcotics division as a detective.

He was then assigned to his current Drug Enforcement Agency unit. He also has an impressive list of credentials. He’s a certified Hazmat technician trained to deal with biological, chemical and nuclear explosives; deputy bomb squad commander for Horry County; and was trained by the Army and the FBI to deal with terrorist situations.

Dec. 31 will be Jolliff’s last day in his current position and he said he’s looking forward to the change.

“Being an undercover police officer for seven years now has taken its toll on me,” he said. “It’s been a great career and very interesting, but it’s a single man’s life.”

Jolliff married just under three years ago and he and his wife, Jessica, have a 10-month-old daughter, Stella Grace. It has changed his priorities and made the danger and long hours associated with undercover police work less appealing.

“I’m more interested in being a father and a husband now,” Jolliff said.

Jolliff is also an ordained youth pastor who gives drug education presentations to area youth groups.

The opportunity to be Murrells Inlet’s next magistrate is “an extreme honor,” he said. “Judge Moeller is one of the most respected magistrates in the state and I am very fortunate to even be considered to succeed him.”

Georgetown County Sheriff Lane Cribb doesn’t know Jolliff, but he said he is disappointed with Cleary’s decision.

“I think it’s a sad day when we can’t find somebody in Georgetown County that’s qualified to be the magistrate there and we’ve got to bring somebody from Horry County that’s been [in Murrells Inlet] six months,” Cribb said.

He favors Pop for the job.

“He’s the one the community wanted,” he said. “He’s well respected and he’s been here for years and years working in that area.”

Tom Swatzel, a Murrells Inlet resident, called Cleary’s choice of Jolliff “troubling” and pointed to questionable content on social networking pages under Jolliff’s name. Cleary said those pages were set up as part of Jolliff’s undercover work. He also discounted negative remarks about Jolliff’s work record, saying Jolliff has “a clean slate.”

As for Pop, he’s on Cleary’s radar and Cleary said he might appoint him to another magistrate’s position when one comes open.

Pop said he appreciates the consideration.

“If he gives me that opportunity in the future, I won’t let him down or anybody in Georgetown County down,” Pop said.

He’s disappointed to have been passed over this time, but he said he respects Cleary and his decision.

“Everything works out for a reason. I believe that, and the senator has a much bigger picture to look at than I do. I’m glad to have been considered,” Pop said.

Moeller, the magistrate in Murrells Inlet for 19 years, will remain in office through April and train Jolliff in the coming months, Cleary said.

“I think I’ll miss it,” Moeller said. “I still look forward to Monday morning and it gives me comfort to feel I’ve done something when Friday gets here. I’ll miss the daily routine, but it’s time for the next phase of my life and I’m looking forward to it.”

His plans include “going back to playing with boats.”

Moeller, a former fishing boat captain, is a partner in a boat chartering business at Murrells Inlet.

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