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Interim SC Solicitor Hires Scandal-Scarred Ex-Judge

Major shakeup in Palmetto State’s fifth judicial circuit …

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So much for that “caretaker” role …

Interim South Carolina fifth circuit solicitor Heather Weiss – appointed earlier this month by governor Henry McMaster to temporarily replace suspended solicitor Dan Johnson – is making sweeping staff decisions in her new role.  One of those decisions?   Hiring a former S.C. circuit court judge with some questionable ethical issues to help lead her office over the next few months.

In addition to hiring retired judge Knox McMahon – whose 2013 sex scandal rocked the state’s judicial branch to its core – Weiss also reportedly fired Dawn Sloane, one of the more experienced managers in an office that oversees criminal cases in Richland and Kershaw counties.

“Definitely not a caretaker,” a source familiar with the high-level staff shakeup told this news site.

No … not at all.

Additionally, sources inside the fifth circuit tell us Weiss is making “major modifications” to caseloads.  We are also informed that she has ordered new office key cards for staffers emblazoned with her name and is pushing to get her picture hung on the wall of the solicitor’s office – located in the Richland County court house.

“I’m beginning to wonder if she realizes she’s just supposed to make sure the office doesn’t catch fire before January,” one Columbia attorney mystified by the situation told us.

Frankly, this news outlet is baffled to see Weiss taking such an activist role in this office – which will be occupied in three months time by the winner of the November 6 election between Democratic nominee Byron Gipson and petition candidate John Meadors, another Columbia lawyer.

Gipson defeated Johnson in the June primary elections, prior to the latter’s indictment on federal and state corruption charges stemming from the alleged mismanagement of public funds.  Johnson could face additional state charges over his alleged harassment of female members of his staff.

First elected in 2010, Johnson – a 47-year-old attorney from Blythewood, S.C. – was automatically suspended on September 18 upon his indictment by a federal grand jury.  The following day, McMaster named Weiss as his interim successor.  In commenting on her selection, we cautioned Weiss against making any dramatic changes within the office, advising her to “adopt a caretaker mindset when it comes to this office’s caseload” and to refrain from “playing favorites” or “overt politicking.”

Why?

For starters, Weiss openly campaigned for Meadors when he sought this office back in 2010 – one reason we were surprised to see McMaster appoint her to this role.  Her prior politicking on Meaders’ behalf struck us as an obvious conflict of interest given his participation in the ongoing election.  Furthermore, we are concerned that Weiss – currently on leave of absence as a deputy attorney general in the office of Alan Wilson – has not completely cut the cord from her previous job.

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To clarify: We have no beef with Weiss.

“(She) may very well be a skilled prosecutor who spends the next few months doggedly and impartially pursuing justice with respect to the hundreds of cases on her office’s docket,” we wrote last week.  “We would expect nothing less of anyone in her position.”

She is also well within her right to run this office as she sees fit for the next three months.

Our concern is this: Her selection by McMaster has created a serious perception problem regarding possible bias related to the upcoming election – a problem which is only exacerbated by these dramatic staffing upheavals, her unnecessary caseload intervention and what appears to be a penchant for self-promotion.

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