This news outlet ran a story earlier this week on a hugely controversial class action settlement related to NukeGate, the Palmetto State’s spectacularly failed intervention in the nuclear power industry. The settlement was approved in a deserted courtroom on Tuesday, March 17, 2020 by former South Carolina supreme court chief justice Jean Toal – who for reasons surpassing understanding has been appointed to oversee all cases related to this command economic fiasco.
And who for reasons surpassing understanding pushed the hearing forward in the midst of a global pandemic.
Should the state have entrusted Toal – who retired as chief justice in December 2015 after a heavy-handed fifteen-year reign – with this authority?
Clearly not … as evidenced by her recent ruling, which we feel is unfairly tilted toward the interests of South Carolina’s totally un-reformable government-run power company, Santee Cooper.
Lawmakers do not want to sell Santee Cooper … and Toal is playing right into their hands.
The only question is … why?
This article is not about that ruling, though … it involves another case scheduled to be heard by the “retired” justice next Monday (March 23, 2020) at 10:00 a.m. EDT. The case in question is a big dollar asbestos lawsuit, one which (judging from the email chain we were forwarded) would require dozens of attorneys from all over the nation to come to Columbia, S.C. next week.
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However, after the issuance of a Wednesday order from S.C. supreme court chief justice Donald Beatty – one which decreed that “only emergency hearings shall be held” in South Carolina starting March 23, 2020 – one of the lawyers in the case circulated an email informing everyone of the postponement of the hearing.
“We will look forward to Monday’s hearing being rescheduled at an appropriate time, and hope everyone stays safe in the meantime,” the attorney wrote.
Everybody good, right?
Not so fast …
Within thirty minutes of receiving the attorney’s missive, Toal fired off a response which affirmed unambiguously that the hearing in question was still on.
“The hearing in this matter has not been cancelled by the order to which you refer,” she wrote, adding that Beatty would “issue a separate assignment order shortly which directs me to conduct this hearing.”
Wait … what?
That’s correct … according to Toal’s email, the hearing in this case is proceeding as planned at the Richland county, S.C. court house in downtown Columbia, S.C. on Monday morning.
It will be held “as previously scheduled,” Toal wrote.
According to Toal, “social distancing is easily handled” in the courtroom where the hearing is scheduled to take place – referencing the controversial Santee Cooper hearing she held in the same courtroom earlier this week.
“(J)ust like that, she has again trumped our highest court,” one attorney remarked in response to Toal’s email.
Toal, 76, is no stranger to bad judgment – as anyone familiar with her various vehicular antics over the years can attest.
But this? This may take the cake …
At a time when non-essential government functions (or in this case, specific court hearings) are being shut down as concerns related to the 2019-2020 coronavirus (known officially as 2019-nCoV or COVID-19) continue to intensify, Toal is forcing a hearing that will require attorneys from various parts of the country to travel to Columbia, S.C.
To be clear: We have no interest in this case. We don’t know who the parties are, or what is at stake. So we have no dog in the fight.
But we do have an interest in public safety – and forcing people to travel or leave their homes for the purpose of attending non-emergency hearings like this at a time like this is absolutely wrong.
There is no reason to hold this hearing. And honestly, a ruling like this one makes us question Toal’s motivations with regard to this case … and for that matter the Santee Cooper case, as well.
Bottom line? The current chief justice needs to step in and get control of the former chief justice. If not, it will continue to be increasingly clear to anyone paying attention who is really in charge of the judicial branch of government in South Carolina.
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