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SC Senator Slammed Over Judicial Lobbying Efforts




A liberal “Republican” S.C. Senator may have run afoul of the law in lobbying business leaders to support a former Democratic statewide candidate for the next open seat on the S.C. Supreme Court.

S.C. Senator John Coursonno stranger to scandal – has been accused of promoting the candidacy of Columbia, S.C.-based plaintiffs’ attorney Matthew Richardson.

Richardson – who ran for attorney general of South Carolina in 2010 as a Democrat – is one of the early frontrunners in the race to fill the seat which will be vacated by chief justice Costa Pleiconis next year.

The winner won’t become chief justice, though, as lawmakers are expected to choose former liberal lawmaker Donald Beatty for that post.

According to multiple sources who spoke with us on condition of anonymity, Courson has lobbied them – alone and in the presence of others – to contact their lawmakers and get them to support Richardson’s candidacy for the bench.

The only problem with that?

Candidates and their representatives are not allowed to solicit – nor lawmakers offer – voting commitments in judicial races (at least not until a slate of candidates has been approved).

More to the point, lawmakers are not supposed to be doing any lobbying, period – although S.C. governor Nikki Haley obviously got a pass on that from her former colleagues on the S.C. House Ethics Committee a few years back.

According to the rules of the S.C. Judicial Merit Selection Commission (JMSC) – which selects judicial nominees – “the candidate, or someone acting on behalf of and at the request of the candidate” is prohibited from “requesting a person to contact a member of the General Assembly on behalf of the candidate before nominations for that office are formally made by the commission.”

In fact, such conduct could very well constitute a crime – with the violator facing a fine of “not more than one thousand dollars” or imprisonment of “not more than ninety days.”

Did Courson discuss his solicitations with Richardson?  Good question …

We know the aging liberal lawmaker is a member of the embattled, neo-Confederate political consulting empire of Richard Quinn – and we know Quinn’s son, S.C. Rep. Rick Quinn, met with Richardson last week.

We’re not suggesting Richardson did anything wrong here (nor is anyone we’ve spoken with about this matter).  What we’re suggesting is that Courson has placed the influential and generally well-regarded Columbia, S.C. attorney in a terrible position.

“If a candidate knows of any solicitations for pledges on his behalf, the candidate has an affirmative duty to inform the commission of the activity,” the judicial selection statute states.

In other words, it appears as though Richardson will have to report Courson’s conduct to the commission – which is scheduled to begin its work in November.

Additionally, “the commission must include in its screening report to the General Assembly any evidence and findings of fact regarding the solicitation of pledges attempted in violation of state law or screening commission rules.”

In the event Richardson emerges from screening, that could taint his candidacy with a growing number of lawmakers who are hostile to the Quinns.

As we’ve repeatedly documented, the screening and election of judges by the S.C. General Assembly is nothing but political horse trading.  The process is notoriously corrupt, replete with dirty dealing and self-interest by powerful legislative leaders and lawyer-legislators who turn around and try cases in front of the judges they appoint.

This website has consistently argued for a more direct line of accountability.  Specifically, we’ve recommended that lawmakers cede control of all judicial appointments to the executive branch – with the S.C. Senate providing advice and consent on those appointments (i.e. the federal model).

Once again, state lawmakers are clearly far too corrupt to handle this process …

Pic: Travis Bell Photography