Letter: End “Toal” Of Politics On SC Judiciary
Within thirty days of returning to my native SC in 1981 I told friends, “I’m used to lawyers talking about what they know; here they talk about who they know.”
After thirteen years observing our Judiciary and Legislature as a State Senator and nearly forty years practicing law and having law licenses in five states, I have concluded Jean Toal should be not be reelected Chief Justice.
I base that opinion on my belief that Justice Toal has repeatedly and inappropriately let politics influence her role as a Judge to the detriment of the public, and likely would continue to do so if reelected.
Here are examples of how politics has been her guide:
1. In Dorchester County, House candidate (now Representative) Chris Murphy walked door-to-door campaigning for election to the House of Representatives with his wife, then-Magistrate Maite Murphy, in tow. For example, they knocked on the door of an elderly gentlemen who supported Murphy’s opponent, and who later expressed fear that Judge Murphy might be biased against him if he were to appear before Judge Murphy when she knew that the gentleman had supported her husband’s opponent. Many consider it inappropriate, a conflict of interest, unseemly and the appearance of impropriety for a Judge to actively campaign for a candidate for office.
Judge Murphy justified her door-to-door campaigning with her candidate-husband by citing an Order Judge Toal had signed allowing part-time Magistrates to engage in political activity. Judge Murphy interpreted that to allow her to campaign door-to-door for a candidate to the House of Representatives — her husband — even if she were the Chief Magistrate. The Legislature elects Circuit Court Judges, and, after her husband was elected to the House of Representatives with Judge Murphy’s door-to-door campaign help, the Legislature elevated Magistrate Murphy by electing her Circuit Court Judge Murphy.
This synergistic interplay of Judicial and Legislative ladder-climbing was enabled by Justice Toal’s Order allowing part-time judges to engage in politics. While that was good for the careers of “Team Murphy”, I believe allowing Judges to engage in political activity is contrary to the public interest.
2. As described in an August 5, 2013 article in The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier, “Legislators, chief justice bully Dorchester council on judge’s space”, Judge Toal issued an Order adversely affecting Dorchester County and its Probate Court without granting County officials’ request to be heard by Judge Toal about her order. Judge Toal’s Order was apparently based in part on input from Rep. Jenny Horne, who is actively campaigning now for Judge Toal’s reelection.
3. When then-Governor Mark Sanford decided against reappointing a Dorchester County Master-in-Equity, a State Senator told me that Dorchester Representative Jenny Horne, another Representative and Judge Toal had met privately to discuss that appointment; that Judge Toal had told those two Representatives that this incumbent Master-In-Equity should be reappointed; and that those Representatives supported the incumbent Master-in-Equity because Judge Toal supported him. I confirmed with Judge Toal that she had met with those Representatives, and asked Judge Toal why she supported the re-appointment of the incumbent Master-in-Equity when the Governor did not. I consider it inappropriate for the state’s Chief Justice to discuss privately with legislators who should or should not be our state judges.
4. Judge Toal issued an Order excusing lawyer-legislators from appearing in Court for up to seven months each year. While that Order helps lawyer-legislators and their clients who may benefit from lengthy delays in the courts, I do not believe giving that such an unprecedented and extraordinary “period of protection” to those lawyer-legislators and their clients is in the public interest.
5. Judge Toal actively lobbied (some say “pressured”) legislators to vote for Rosalyn Frierson, her court administrator, as a Family Court Judge. Frierson lost. I consider it inappropriate for any Judge — particularly the Chief Justice of the S.C. Supreme Court — to lobby legislators regarding the selection of another Judge.
Our Constitution and system of government requires separation between the powers of the legislative, judicial and executive branches. South Carolina has probably the most powerful legislature in the nation, and is one of just two states wherein the Legislature decides who are most of the state’s Judges. Judge Toal knows that her job depends on how her conduct as a Judge pleases state legislators who soon will decide whether to vote on her reelection as Chief Justice. Ask yourself, based in part on the above, if you think she has let politics overly influence her conduct as a Judge, and whether she likely would continue to do so if re-elected.
Our state’s “Judicial Accountability” was ranked “F” (44%) by the independent State Integrity Project, which ranked our state government “fifth most corrupt” in the nation. See here and here. This data, about a Judiciary led by Chief Justice Toal for fourteen years, evidences the need to replace Judge Toal.
Michael T. Rose
Mike Rose is a Summerville Attorney and former State Senator Representing Dorchester, Berkeley and Charleston Counties.