SC Judicial Nepotism: It’s Happening Again

Another lawmaker’s relative is on the ballot for a judgeship …

When will they learn? No time soon, it would appear …

Lawmakers in the South Carolina General Assembly are considering yet another relative of one of their own members for a coveted judge’s position – highlighting (again) the rampant nepotism in state government as well as the favoritism inherent in its notoriously corrupt judicial selection process.

The candidate in question? Courtney Clyburn Pope, daughter of veteran state lawmaker Bill Clyburn. Pope is currently the city solicitor in Aiken, S.C., where the backload of cases has soared under her tenure. Nonetheless, Clyburn Pope has been deemed “qualified” and is facing a pair of opponents in her bid to become a judge in the Palmetto State’s second judicial circuit – which encompasses Aiken, Bamberg and Barnwell counties.

Sources following this race closely tell us one of the two candidates she is facing – longtime deputy second circuit solicitor David Miller – is the most qualified for the post.

Unfortunately for Miller, he is not related to anyone in the S.C. General Assembly.

Clyburn Pope is …

Her father has represented S.C. House District 82 (map) for the last quarter century. Prior to that, the Democratic legislator was a member of Aiken County council and before that he was councilman for the town of Aiken, S.C. – which hired his daughter as its solicitor in March of 2016.

For all we know, Clyburn is a good man. Ideologically we suspect there is very little alignment between us and him, but his colleagues speak favorably of him – referring to him as a “highly popular” member of the S.C. House. Clyburn is also a longtime member of the influential ways and means committee – which gets the first shot at drafting the state’s $30 billion spending plan each year.

So in addition to being well-liked, he has some pull …


Of course, many of Clyburn’s colleagues are upset to find themselves in the predicament of having to vote on his daughter’s candidacy – fearing backlash no matter what they decide to do.

“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” one lawmaker told us.

There are also allegations of dishonest dealing in the race, with several sources telling us Clyburn Pope’s last-minute decision to file came after she had previously given assurances that she would not be a candidate.

To be clear: We have no dog in this fight. It is of no consequence to us which candidate wins or loses, nor do we have any intention of holding this vote against any lawmaker. We do, however, continue to have a serious problem with the ongoing failure of state lawmakers to address their chronic nepotism – to say nothing of their broader failure to reform a flawed judicial selection process.

Those votes – or rather non-votes – are the ones we will hold over their heads.

As we have often said, from the selection of judicial candidates by a committee packed with lawmakers to the actual legislative voting on their ‘merits’ – the entire judicial selection process in South Carolina is rigged and needs to be replaced.

Chronic nepotism is just the most visible example of this corruption …

(Click to view)

(Via: Travis Bell Photography)

In 2009, Kaye Hearn – wife of then-state representative George Hearn – was elected by lawmakers to the S.C. supreme court.

In 2013, Maite Murphy – wife of state representative Chris Murphy – was elected by lawmakers as a circuit court judge.

In 2015, Bill Funderburk – husband of Democratic state representative Laurie Slade Funderburk – was elected as one of the state’s six administrative law judges.

And just last year, Jennifer McCoy – the wife of powerful S.C. House judiciary chairman Peter McCoy – was elected as a circuit court judge.

These are just a few recent examples …

Again, we have no issue with any of these judges … our beef is with the system that allowed them to be on the ballot in the first place.

We proposed getting rid of nepotism across state government over a decade ago in our famed reform blueprint, the “95 Theses.”

From that document …

43) No member of the General Assembly, their immediate family or a campaign contributor shall be eligible to serve as a paid or contract employee of the state.

Simple, right?

It should be …

Three years ago, we reiterated our objection to the practice of lawmakers’ appointing their relatives to government posts – insisting that a prohibition against the practice should be part of a comprehensive ethics reform package.

“Any ethics reform package passed this year by the S.C. General Assembly must include draconian new restrictions on relatives of lawmakers (and former lawmakers) getting state appointments,” we wrote at the time.  “We are sick unto death of politicians telling us how they support ethics reform … only to watch their kin folk get high paying gigs on our dime.”

Sadly, not only are lawmakers still refusing to fix this broken system – they are continuing to exploit it to get their family members appointed to influential positions.

Enough is enough …



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Banner: Columbia SC Photographers Travis Bell

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