Another Shady SC Judicial Race Results In Calls For Reform


Another year, another shady judicial race in South Carolina …

Even in those rare instances in which South Carolina’s notoriously corrupt judicial selection process yields decent choices (as it did in this year’s race for S.C. Supreme Court), Palmetto State lawmakers cannot seem to elect judges without the process devolving into a sordid web of lies, intrigue and vote-trading.

This year’s S.C. Supreme Court race was no different …

The end result of the goat show – namely the election of chief appellate judge John Few – wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Both Few and Bruce Williams, lawmakers’ second choice, were actually solid choices in our estimation.

After putting numerous liberals on the state’s high court, “Republican” lawmakers finally had some reasonably conservative candidates to choose from.  And they chose one of them …

But again, the insidious insider dealing preceding the final tally highlighted just how self-serving this process has become – and how elections for lower courts can be manipulated as part of the process.

“There needs to be a federal probe into the workings of the South Carolina General Assembly,” one lawmaker told us after witnessing the horse-trading in this year’s race.

Actually there is a probe … although the state’s top prosecutor appears to be doing everything within his power to shut it down.

Anyway, all this horse-trading – aside from being illegal – isn’t good for the state, especially when it empowers a left-leaning minority to wield disproportionate impact over the selection process (a.k.a. why liberal justices Donald Beatty and Kaye Hearn are sitting on the Supreme Court right now).

One state lawmaker – S.C. Rep. Chris Corley – filed a trio of bills back in December to do away with the legislative election of judges (while reforming eligibility for judicial candidates).  Corley’s bills – H. 4402, H. 4404 and H. 4406 – call for the popular election of judges in the Palmetto State from the family court system all the way up to the Supreme Court.

His legislation would also forbid judgeships from being granted to the “spouse, child, parent, sibling, mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law” of a state lawmaker.  Heck, Corley’s bill even includes language barring the appoint of a lawmaker’s live-in girlfriend (or boyfriend).

A supporter of Corley’s efforts told us he is trying to limit the ability of a liberal minority to impact judicial races.

“Georgia does it by election,” they said, adding that only Democratic enclaves got liberal judges.  “And they have zero chance of ever getting on a statewide bench.”

Another option is to grant future South Carolina governors the right to appoint judges – with either the State Senate (or the entire S.C. General Assembly) providing advice and consent via a two-thirds affirmative vote.  Of course several of these “executive appointment” plans still call for the involvement of the Judicial Merit Selection Commission (JMSC) – a legislatively controlled panel that ostensibly “screens” judges and determines which ones are qualified to serve on the bench.

“That’s where the REAL problem lies – and where the constitutional affront is most flagrant,” a source familiar with the commission’s inner workings told us.

We agree … especially seeing as how capable members of this board have been removed by powerful lawmakers as part of their never-ending effort to settle scores.

Our view?  The JMSC should be completely eliminated, and lawmakers should turn over appointment authority for all judges to the governor’s office.  Basically, legislators should have no impact whatsoever on the selection process – although we believe they do have a right to confirm a selection by an affirmative two-thirds vote of both chambers.

We’re told some sort of “executive appointment” bill is being pushed by S.C. Senator Katrina Shealy – who pulled no punches in her assessment of this year’s judicial intriguing.

Last year, state lawmakers seemed to be focused on fixing the Palmetto State’s corrupt judicial system – in fact they had a reform candidate in mind in the hopes of pulling off a top-to-bottom overhaul of the entire judicial branch.  Those plans have since collapsed.

Unless they get serious about fixing this badly broken process, we will continue to see similar outcomes in the future.

That may not have resulted in a bad judge this go-round, but it has on many occasions in the past … and will on many occasions in the to come if lawmakers don’t enact broad based reform.


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Halfvast Conspirator February 4, 2016 at 11:06 am

Great idea — roll it into the “ethics” bill and pass it!

flip February 4, 2016 at 11:32 am

Roll it and smoke it, more likely to happen that way.

just wondering February 4, 2016 at 11:52 am

Where is the evidence this race was shady? Sensationalist headline but no there is there.

John Marshall February 4, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Judges elected by popular vote would be equally corrupt – probably worse. In states where this exists (Georgia for example), well-heeled lawyers contribute to judges’ campaigns, and get what they want as a result – and the need to appeal to a constituency erodes judicial independence. But Corley is right to urge a ban on nepotism.
The best (though not perfect) system would be appointments to the trial court bench by the Governor, from a slate vetted and approved by the Bar, with the “advice and consent” of the Senate – similar to the federal system – although this is certainly still political and capable of manipulation and vote trading. Term limits would be a good idea. Also, judicial salaries should be increased, to encourage good lawyers to consider the job, and judicial retirement should be reformed so that judges wont hang on just to become eligible for a guaranteed retirement income.
Finally, we need more state court trial judges, more civil matters being referred to administrative courts and masters in equity, a system to unclog and expedite criminal dockets, fairness in scheduling criminal trials, a separate dispute resolution system for prisoner suits and PCRs, mandatory mediation of all civil and domestic matters, additional statewide investment in electronic records technology, more and better paid public defenders, and another round of tort reform.
Or not.

nitrat February 4, 2016 at 12:33 pm

“There needs to be a federal probe into the workings of the South Carolina General Assembly,” one lawmaker told us after witnessing the horse-trading in this year’s race.

And, if the feds came in, oh, the screaming about Obama’s partisan overreach we would immediately be hearing.
It’s best the feds just let us wallow in our own excrement until we are sick of it.

Herman W. "Buz" Martin February 4, 2016 at 12:37 pm

It’s powerful Democrats like Nettles, Toal, Clyburn, Harpootlean and Sheeheen who keep the fed probers at bay. But you’re right. If anything comes of such investigations, the great hue and cry about it all being Obama’s fault would be deafening.

Tunes'n'News February 4, 2016 at 12:50 pm

I almost completely agree with this article. Except I’d call it a shit show not a goat show. Other than that, perfect.

Retread February 4, 2016 at 1:01 pm

Fits screwed this all up and is trying to cover it. Bad reporting.

Inquiring minds February 4, 2016 at 1:17 pm

What “insidious insider dealings?” Do you have any specifics?

anonymous February 4, 2016 at 3:20 pm

You are stupid.

James February 4, 2016 at 2:44 pm

Can someone tell me what Katrina Shealy has actually done?

truthbetole February 5, 2016 at 4:57 pm

nothin except for pour money into djj

anonymous February 4, 2016 at 5:52 pm

I have read more than I care to admit about this corrupt SC Supreme Court. Being an up country man for decades, I can’t help but notice that with all the discussions, opinions, posturing and such that go on with this Court, our home grown Bible thumping, Sunday School teaching Justice John Kittredge is rarely ever mentioned. Exactly, what is wrong with this guy. As for future leadership fights, he is most conspicuously never mentioned. Do any of you self proclaimed insiders in Columbia know what the problem might be?


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