It’s been a tough stretch for South Carolina’s venerable legal profession. The Palmetto State’s bar has seen its reputation tarnished by the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga but even moreso by its steadfast support for a corrupt judiciary which consistently places politics ahead of victims’ rights and public safety.
Yet ringing in my ears each time I traverse South Carolina’s granite-buttressed, marble-appointed halls of justice are the shrill, sanctimonious cries which accompany a full-throated defense of this failed system. Those cries and their enabling echoes reverberate through these revered sanctums – which hide the hive mind of the rationalizers of the status quo and the demonizers of those who call out the injustice.
Or dare to put forward new ideas …
Would somebody please translate that into Latin for the S.C. Bar Association? Because whether its members know it or not, that’s their motto.
The worst part? In a lot of cases – including the Murdaugh saga – even the side of “right” is in the wrong. As I predicted over a year ago in filming a forthcoming Netflix documentary on the Murdaughs, some of the lawyers who claim to stand for “justice” in this case have shown themselves to be nothing but hypocritical shysters and crass profiteers … leaving South Carolinians wondering where they should turn (and whom they should trust) as they seek to hold institutional oppressors truly accountable.
Which, of course, assumes there is such a place … or such a person.
How many righteous souls did God and Abraham ultimately agree upon? I forget.
To be clear: No one is disputing the skill of the Palmetto State’s bar. As I have witnessed firsthand over the years, South Carolina is home to some of the most brilliant and capable legal minds you will find anywhere in America. The problem? What are they using their skills for?
Or to put it another way: What shade of “Murdaugh” are they? Ten percent? Fifty percent?
What authentic altruism have they demonstrated beyond the tax write-offs they trumpet each December via their in-house public relations firms? I mean, I get it. Everyone’s gotta make a nickel. But … what is the true goal?
What is their praxis?
Where is their courage in calling out those among them whose conduct consistently impugns “the integrity and honor of the legal profession?” Where is their support of real reforms which would “continually improve the administration of justice” in South Carolina?
I know I’m probably missing the mark on some notable exceptions, here … but I am guessing my darts are hitting the middle of the board far more often than they are missing it.
In fact, I don’t have to guess … because everyday we see the consequences of their ongoing failure.
Into this climate of pervasive self-interest – and the accompanying erosion of public faith in institutional justice – steps Emma Dean, a veteran South Carolina legislative staffer who was named the new executive director of the bar this week. Her appointment is effective January 5, 2023.
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Dean (above) is a graduate of Washington & Lee University and a mother of four who resides in the Columbia area. In accepting this mission, she is leaving her current position as counselor to the S.C. House judiciary committee – a panel which, as it happens, is run by a politician who epitomizes the problem.
Is she different?
According to a news release announcing her appointment, Dean is “a dedicated public servant with a strong track record of solving complex legal issues and building critical relationships across the state.”
Those who know her speak glowingly of her ability – and her integrity.
“(She’s) like a saint,” one of Dean’s friends told me. “One of those people you are constantly amazed by. Brilliant and charitable but firm and does what’s right.”
“Pure as the driven snow,” another of her confidants told me. “(She is) exactly who they needed.”
Let’s hope these tributes prove prescient. At this point, though, I am not sure even the blessed virgin Mary – endowed with the courage of David, the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of Job and the vision of Paul – could wrestle this brood of unholy, unruly vipers into something resembling a profession worthy of our respect.
And something into which the public could once again place its trust …
My challenge to Dean? And to every member of the bar?
Show … don’t tell. Act … don’t enable. Serve … don’t steal. Change … don’t stay the same.
Through your actions, investments and commitments to reform, try to actually start standing for the things you say you stand for. You know … instead of just saying you stand for them. And even more importantly, start standing against those who have brought the integrity of this profession into disrepute.
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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