SC Politics

Will Folks: Why I Got Dragged Into South Carolina’s Latest Judicial Race Drama

“It’s just business …”

So there’s a big story about to come out in The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier which basically alleges that Upstate businessman John Warren, state representative Kirkman Finlay and I are part of a cabal conspiring to sink the candidacy of S.C. circuit court judge DeAndrea Benjamin.

Benjamin is one of three candidates running for a seat on the state court of appeals, South Carolina’s second-highest court.

I have heard these allegations before …

Six months ago, my news outlet published a story about the criminal escapades of an accused murderer Benjamin set free on bond. I criticized her decision to let this person back out on the streets, just as I have criticized other judges for doing the same thing.

I believe excessive and unwarranted judicial leniency is a serious problem in South Carolina, and beyond that the accused murderer Benjamin set free took a child hostage and nearly killed two sheriff’s deputies in Lexington county – which is where I live with my wife and our six (soon to be seven) children.

The fact that Benjamin set this accused criminal free in my back yard troubled me greatly … especially considering how rising violence in downtown Columbia, S.C. (her husband’s city) was one of the reasons I decided to move my family and my businesses from there to Lexington county seven years ago.

After publishing this story last August, I soon learned that Benjamin – the wife of Columbia, S.C. mayor Steve Benjamin – has some incredibly powerful friends. Friends who didn’t take kindly to her being criticized.

In fact, some of her powerful friends are also my friends. Some of them are my lawyers. Others are among my advertisers. So, when I first started getting calls about this issue (again, over six months ago) I spoke with them very frankly about the subject.

First, I told them I had no dog in this fight. FITSNews has not endorsed any of the candidates in Benjamin’s judicial race – nor does it have any plans to do so. I do not believe lawmakers have any business picking judges, period … and my website has published dozens of stories over the years documenting why that is the case. The process is notoriously corruptible, and it has produced a judicial branch beholden to the whims of powerful lawyer-legislators.

Second, I offered them my microphone. I told my friends I was happy to publish any information they wished to provide addressing my criticism of judge Benjamin’s judicial leniency. In fact, I specifically (and repeatedly) offered them the opportunity to publish letters to the editor or opinion columns on FITSNews explaining why they believed my criticism was unfair. That offer – which I reiterated as recently as last week – still stands, by the way.

Third, I reminded them of the reason for my criticism – not because anyone put me up to it, but because I felt judge Benjamin’s rulings endangered my home community.

Unfortunately, none of Benjamin’s backers ever took me up on my offer … but some individuals supporting her candidacy did decide to leak information which ostensibly exonerates her to the Post and Courier.

Specifically, they claimed Benjamin set the accused murderer free because prosecutors took too long to bring his case to trial. If accurate, that would certainly be a fair point – one I would have loved to have heard from Benjamin’s supporters when I first offered them my microphone six months ago.

Does it justify her decision? Eh …

Of course, that wasn’t the only information that was leaked to the Post and Courier.

One lawmaker told the paper I was “put up” to attacking Benjamin because representative Finlay was carrying a decade-old grudge against her husband – who defeated him in the 2010 Columbia, S.C. mayoral race.

Someone also told the paper I was seeking revenge against Benjamin because she was the judge who accepted my guilty plea in a high-profile 2005 domestic violence case. Frankly, I had forgotten who the judge was at that hearing nearly two decades ago … and as I told the Post and Courier reporter, what difference would it make seeing as all she did was accept a guilty plea?

Furthermore, I was accused of being on the payroll of Warren – a future gubernatorial candidate who has weighed in on the judicial election against judge Benjamin. And yes, the theory there is that I was going after judge Benjamin as a way of weakening her husband – who has been touted as a Democratic gubernatorial prospect.

(Steve Benjamin, incidentally, is tight with current South Carolina governor Henry McMaster and his network – the former empire of disgraced political consultant Richard Quinn).

So to recap … I stand accused of unfairly criticizing Benjamin because I was pressured to do so politically, because I was thirsty for revenge and because I was getting paid in connection with the 2022 governor’s race.

Diabolical, aren’t I?

Yeah. Now. Here’s the real reason you are reading about these allegations: Judge Benjamin is trailing in her legislative election. Badly, according to some of my legislative sources. And this barrage of broadsides against me (and against Warren and Finlay) is a Hail Mary effort to try and swing the race in her favor.

Will it work? We shall see. And if it does … I will gladly tip my cap to those who came after me for their own political gain. Good for them. Really. Like Thom Yorke once sang, “It’s just business.” I get it.

Until then, though … is this the behavior of a candidate who knows they have the votes necessary to win an election? Or … is it desperation?

Because it smells a lot like desperation to me …

Oh well … even though Benjamin’s backers dropped a hit piece on me in a rival publication, guess what: My microphone is still open to them – and always will be. Because that’s the way my news outlet operates.

It is my job to criticize those in power when I feel it is necessary, but it is also my job to share their perspectives on that criticism … which I am always willing to do no matter how many shots they may take at me.


(Via: FITSNews)

Will Folks is the editor of the news outlet you are currently reading.



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