S.C. Chief Justice Jean Toal (a.k.a. “Queen Jean”) has been beating a path to the State House this week, groveling before state lawmakers as she faces a credible challenger to her reign over the state’s judicial branch of government.

Is that undignified? Of course it is … but that’s just what happens when the legislative branch is allowed to select candidates for judicial races (and then vote on those candidates).

Associate Supreme Court justice Costa Pleicones has mounted a bid to unseat Toal – an effort that has gathered a good bit more support than we anticipated it would.

According to a S.C. House member who spoke with FITS on condition of anonymity, Toal and Pleicones both have approximately forty votes in the S.C. House – with the remaining 44 members undecided. In the S.C. Senate, Toal is doing better – received the support of close to thirty of the chamber’s forty-six members.

If all 170 members of the S.C. General Assembly were to vote in the election, the winning candidate would need to capture the support of 86 lawmakers to win election.

What precipitated this battle?

Well, Pleicones is furious with Toal for reneging on her promise not to seek another term as chief justice (a story which broke exclusively on FITS). Toal had reportedly agreed to step down and give Pleicones a brief tenure as chief justice prior to his retirement, but then abruptly went back on her word.

Once among the most powerful political figures in the state, Toal has seen her influence wane in recent years. In fact earlier this year she was dealt a humiliating defeat by lawmakers – who narrowly rejected her hand-picked selection for an at-large family court seat.

“People no longer fear the wrath from her,” the lawmaker told us. “They know they can defy her without consequence.”

A longtime liberal (like most recent “Republican” S.C. Supreme Court appointees), Toal has repeatedly demonstrated her susceptibility to corruption – as evidenced by the infamous 2007 bar exam scandal (broken exclusively by FITS) as well as the ongoing shadiness demonstrated by her attorney discipline office.

She’s also been involved in several traffic incidents allegedly involving alcohol …