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In Defense Of Donald Beatty

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MAGISTRATE “NON-TROVERSY”

This website hasn’t often had the occasion to support South Carolina chief justice Donald Beatty.  We did not back his election to the bench, nor did we back his ascension to the top post in the state’s judicial branch of government.

Nor has he forgotten it, we’re told …

Having said that, we have a hard time finding fault with Beatty over his recent reshuffling of magistrates in nearly three dozen Palmetto State counties.

Ten days ago (on June 28), Beatty issued an order naming new chief magistrates in 31 of South Carolina’s 46 counties.  According to reporter Mandy Catoe of The Lancaster News, his decision “stunned county and state officials.”

That’s an understatement …

We’ve heard from dozens of angry lawmakers and judicial branch sources in the aftermath of Beatty’s order – most of them urging us to criticize the chief justice for “usurping legislative authority.”

“He’s worse than Jean Toal,” one of our sources said, referring to scandal-scarred former chief justice.

We’ve been hard on Beatty before … but we’re not biting this time.  In fact, we believe the former Democratic lawmaker was well within his rights to do what he did.

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Whether we agree with his ideological leanings (or whether we like him personally), Beatty is the leader of the judicial branch of government.  As far as we’re concerned, that gives him the right to shuffle magistrates as he sees fit.

“He is well within his authority,” one judicial branch expert told us.

Magistrates are responsible for issuing search warrants and hearing city and county cases in which criminal penalties do not exceed $500 – and in which civil claims do not exceed $7,500.

According to reporter Jamie Self of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper, there are currently 317 magistrates working in the Palmetto State.

To be clear: We make no value judgment as to the personnel changes Beatty has made – nor do we have an opinion as to the manner in which they were made.  Nor do we presume to know Beatty’s motives for issuing this order, although he told Self he thinks chief magistrates “should be rotated on a regular basis” (which certainly sounds reasonable to us).

All we are saying is it was his call to make …

This website has repeatedly argued against legislative interference in the judicial branch of government – arguing such meddling dilutes the rightful and proper separation of powers and leads to the unnecessary politicization of the judiciary.  To reverse ourselves in this instance because of some beef with Beatty would be hypocritical on our part … and would in fact be part of the ongoing “all in” problem with public discourse these days.

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