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By a 95-74 margin, S.C. Chief Justice Jean Toal won reelection to her post this week – fending off a credible challenge from associate justice Costa Pleicones.

That means the 70-year-old former liberal activist will lead the state’s judicial branch through the end of 2015 – when she has said she will step down.

Maybe she’ll actually make good on her word this time …

The deeply personal battle between these two aging, left-of-center judges (Pleicones is 69 years old) stemmed from Toal’s prior “reconsideration” of her decision to step down last year.

It had nothing to do with ideology, judicial philosophy or reform of the state’s notoriously corrupt judicial branch.

For those reasons, we stayed out of it …

Toal’s triumph is also a major victory for embattled S.C. Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell – who is currently staring down a grand jury investigation into corruption charges.

Harrell aggressively lobbied lawmakers on Toal’s behalf … and appears to have been instrumental in providing her with a winning margin.

“Bobby moved votes,” one pro-Pleicones lawmaker acknowledged.

Now the only question is did those votes come at a cost? And if so, who might be picking up the tab for them? We’ve heard from multiple lawmakers on both sides of this judicial battle – and to a person they tell us the horse trading was hot and heavy in the days leading up to the vote.

We’re also expecting Toal’s retribution against lawmakers who opposed her to be hot and heavy as well …

Which leads us to our fundamental point: It’s time to end the notoriously corrupt process of state legislators (most of whom are lawyers) electing judges. That responsibility should rest with the Governor’s Office – acting with the advice and consent of the State Senate.

UPDATE: For those of you keeping score at home, here is the legislative roll call from the vote showing each lawmaker’s selection …