It didn’t get much play in the mainstream media, but late last month the much-maligned South Carolina Judicial Merit Selection Commission (SCJMSC) released its list of candidates for next year’s judicial elections.
And when I say “judicial elections,” I am referring to the annual rubber-stamping of preselected candidates to preside over the Palmetto State’s notoriously corrupt system of “justice.”
You know … judges who will continue bowing before the powerful lawyer-legislators who are really in charge of the judicial branch of government in South Carolina. Candidates who will continue doling out lenient bonds and anemic sentences to violent criminals … even as public safety continues eroding all around us.
Oh, and who will continue not working especially hard …
How hard could the job be, though? I mean, for far too long, far too many judges in the Palmetto State have had only to gaze across the courtroom to see which side of the aisle the money and power were on.
And then gaveled accordingly …
Blind justice? Hell no … but as we have all known since childhood, it’s so much easier to peek.
South Carolina is one of only two states in America in which lawmakers elect judges. Actually, it’s much worse than that: Not only do lawmakers elect judges, they exercise another layer of control over the process by screening the candidates who appear on their ballots – literally rigging the elections before they hold them.
That process is officially underway … and according to the list of names released last month, S.C. circuit court judge Maite Murphy (the wife of the S.C. House judiciary committee chairman Chris Murphy) is one of five candidates seeking a seat on the S.C. supreme court.
Indeed. But that’s exactly how judge Murphy – whose first name is pronounced “my-tay” – got her seat on the bench in the first place. Same goes for her brother-in-law, Dorchester County magistrate Michael H. Murphy III. Both benefited from Chris Murphy pushing their candidacies with his colleagues in the legislature – which he is continuing to do on his wife’s behalf as she seeks a promotion and pay raise.
Subtlety be damned …
A fiscal liberal, Chris Murphy has been battling health problems all year – with his illness and convalescence grinding the work of the influential judiciary committee to a halt. But Murphy has been strong enough in recent months to start strong-arming multiple lawmakers into pledging their support for his wife’s candidacy next winter.
With some success, too …
Frankly, that epitomizes everything that is wrong with our judicial selection process.
Murphy has absolutely no business even discussing this race with his colleagues – let along pressuring them to support his wife. That’s exactly what he is doing, though. In fact, sources familiar with the situation told me Murphy’s aggressive advocacy on behalf of his wife has repeatedly crossed the line with members of the House – and is beginning to create real problems for new S.C. House speaker Murrell Smith.
“It’s become awkward,” one lawmaker told me, citing Murphy’s acrimonious reactions to the handful of lawmakers who have told him “no” or “not yet.”
Things reportedly came to a head last weekend at the annual South Carolina Association for Justice (SCAJ) convention on Hilton Head Island (a.k.a. the “Murdaugh Mingle”). At this assemblage of status quo sycophants, sources told me Murphy and his wife were reportedly involved in some sort of verbal altercation at a reception hosted by the McGown, Hood, Felder and Phillips law firm.
Details of the exchange are sketchy, but a source present at the event said the Murphys were fighting with each other. Loudly. Publicly. Drunkly.
What prompted their marital quarrel? I’m not sure … but they were reportedly a unified front once again by the time they left the gathering. Well … more accurately, Chris Murphy hasn’t stopped twisting arms on behalf of his wife’s supreme court bid.
Whatever happened with the Murphys at the “Murdaugh Mingle,” the fact remains Maite Murphy’s candidacy for the supreme court the worst thing that could possibly happen to the new “Republican” leadership in Columbia. At a time when people are becoming widely aware of the extent to which cronyism has compromised the administration of justice in South Carolina – and are demanding real reform to the system – along come the good ol’ boys at the S.C. State House abusing their authority to install more of their relatives in positions of power.
It is about as tone deaf as it gets … and in South Carolina, that’s saying something.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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