In years past, I have editorialized in support of pay raises for South Carolina judges – arguing they performed a core function of government and, as such, should be compensated commensurately. Indeed, we need more judges in the Palmetto State – and we need to pay the good ones enough to keep them on the bench.
“This is one of the few core functions government ought to perform – and I have consistently called on core functions to be funded at appropriate levels,” I wrote back in 2015. “Cops, clerks of court, judges, emergency responders, prison guards, etc. – these are the people we should be paying.”
Four years ago, I noted how “judges in the Palmetto State have been historically underpaid compared to their peers in other states – although in fairness it is considerably cheaper to live in South Carolina than it is to live in other states.”
In that same article, though, I made it clear these raises shouldn’t be doled out in a vacuum …
“Judicial pay raises should be accompanied by long-overdue reform in (how) judges are chosen in South Carolina,” I wrote.
“The current method – in which state lawmakers choose a slate of candidates and then vote on them – is clearly a cesspool,” I noted at the time.
Sadly, this “cesspool” has only gotten dirtier … creating deadlier consequences.
Thankfully, law enforcement and prosecutorial leaders are becoming increasingly vocal about who is responsible for the problem – and how things must change (see here and here). There is a growing chorus of condemnation regarding the “catch and release” philosophy currently employed by our judicial branch vis-à-vis violent criminals – an approach which has materially eroded public safety and shredded the rights of victims.
Now, state senator Gerald Malloy – a lawyer-legislator who has reaped untold profits from this failed system – seeks to reward the legislative appointees overseeing it. Specifically, the veteran lawmaker wants to guarantee annual pay raises for the state’s chief justice, supreme court justices, appellate court judges, circuit court judges and family court judges.
That’s right. All of them. Irrespective of merit.
Malloy has filed a bill – S. 52 – which would fix all of these judicial salaries on a sliding scale based on the level of compensation received by federal district court judges. According to reporter Rick Brundrett of The (Columbia, S.C.) Nerve, this would “guarantee them annual raises” – above and beyond the cost-of-living upticks they already receive as state employees.
Really? Again, Malloy is among those lawyer-legislators benefitting the most from the Palmetto State’s scourge of judicial leniency.
Funny how that works, isn’t it? It’s always so cozy in South Carolina’s halls of “justice.”
Look, I have no specific issue with the pay raises included in Malloy’s bill. Nor do I object to the idea of annual raises tied to inflation for employees who perform core functions of government – and merit-based raises beyond that for employees But let me be clear: I will be double-dipped in equine fecal matter before I support such raises without conditions.
First and foremost, lawmakers have no business raising judicial salaries until they have removed themselves completely from the judicial selection process. Giving pay raises to judges at the very moment this system is on trial underscores the incestuous corruption this news outlet has been exposing for the better part of the last decade.
No judicial selection reform? No pay raises for judges. Period.
Second, Brundrett’s story noted the judicial branch’s “lack of transparency when comes to judges’ pay and perks.” He is absolutely correct on that front – and to this prevailing opaqueness I would add a vexing inconsistency as it relates to transparency in our public courtrooms.
Some judges are champions of openness, others love to operate behind closed doors.
No offense, but if we are talking about public courtrooms it shouldn’t be up to them. All courtrooms should default to being open … and barring specific juvenile matters, no files should be sealed.
South Carolina desperately needs good judges. Honest judges. Fair judges. It needs more of them, too – and it needs to pay them what they deserve (and pay them based on merit). Sadly, we will never get to that point without fundamentally fixing the structure of our badly broken judiciary – which is currently being held captive by a handful of legislative leaders intent on preserving the state’s failed status quo.
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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