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Crime & Courts

South Carolina Cops, Prosecutors Call For Judicial Reform

Will they rally around anything meaningful, though?

A coalition of prosecutors and law enforcement leaders are wading (gingerly) into the issue of judicial reform in South Carolina – a state where omnipotent lawyer-legislators have long-wielded absolute control over who sits on the bench.

(With tragic consequences …)

This corrupt, opaque system – unique to the Palmetto State – has turned an ostensibly independent judiciary into little more than an annex of the powerful S.C. General Assembly, a body loaded to the gills with well-heeled attorneys who stand ready to reap the rewards of their influence.

While the system works exceedingly well for them and their clients, the cozy corruption has consequences for the rest of us … like when lawyer-legislators receive preferential treatment on behalf of violent criminals (including accused murderers and rapists).

As the body count rises, state lawmakers have refused to heed calls for reform (well, to the extent anyone beyond this news outlet was calling for it). Meanwhile, victims continue to be made to suffer – and public safety continues to erode.

(Click to view)

S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson addresses the media during a press conference on judicial reform in Columbia, S.C. on March 27, 2023 (Dylan Nolan/ FITSNews)

Desperate times call for drastic measures … but despite calls for such long-overdue reforms, the “bipartisan, diverse” coalition convened in Columbia, S.C. this week by attorney general Alan Wilson seemed content to dip its little toe in the waters of judicial selection reform.

While submissively addressing the legislative leaders who are at the heart of the problem

Meanwhile, backroom negotiating between prosecutors and legislative leaders appeared unlikely to produce anything beyond mere tinkering around the edges of the epidemic of judicial leniency. Lawmakers privy to these negotiations have confirmed only modest revisions to the current composition of the S.C. Judicial Merit Selection Commission (SCJMSC) – the legislatively controlled panel which screens judges for legislative election – as being on the table.

“There will never not be a legislative majority on JMSC,” one senator told me bluntly.

Also, such tinkering around the edges will not even be contemplated until next year – as a key legislative deadline for bills crossing over from one chamber to the other is fast approaching.

Translation? Politicians aren’t serious about fixing this issue.

I praised Wilson last week for being willing to expend his political capital on this issue, but noted I would “reserve judgment on (his) specific judicial selection reforms until he articulate(d) them.”

Unfortunately, there was precious little in the way of “articulation” at his news conference – with Wilson opting instead to plead with lawmakers to “let us sit at the table.”

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“We all agree there needs to be meaningful judicial reform here in South Carolina,” Wilson said after introducing a phalanx of ten elected solicitors and eighteen elected sheriffs. “We reside in the executive branch of government … (and) we are completely cut out of the process.”

That’s true … and that desperately needs to change.

Wilson did not endorse a specific reform proposal, though, merely saying “it is important that we have a voice in that process.”

Interestingly, Wilson actually came out in opposition to one of the more widely supported reform proposals: Popular election of judges.

“I’m not for popular election of judges,” he told reporter Seanna Adcox of The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier in response to a question.

Hmmm … that’s a curious stance coming a popularly elected politician.

S.C. first circuit solicitor David Pascoe – who penned a guest column on this issue for our news outlet last week – was more specific in his remarks, but he also declined to endorse a specific reform proposal.

“We need immediate judicial reform in South Carolina – especially in the way we elect our judges,” Pascoe said. “We need it now. Public confidence is waning.”

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S.C. first circuit solicitor David Pascoe addresses the media during a press conference on judicial reform in Columbia, S.C. on March 27, 2023 (Dylan Nolan/ FITSNews).

Pascoe called for “ridding the JMSC of lawyer-legislator control,” but declined to go further than that – saying only that the various reform concepts being floated were “all better ideas than what we have now.”

Like Wilson, he specifically declined to endorse popular election of judges – or gubernatorial appointment of judges – saying such proposals “would take a constitutional amendment and that would take years.”

“We don’t have years,” Pascoe said. “We need reform now.”

That’s true … but with all due respect to those who spoke at this gathering, our news outlet has been sounding the alarm on this issue for years. And at least a few of the police and prosecutors who appeared at Wilson’s event have been demanding reform on this issue for some time now. Should we resign ourselves to half-measures (next year, at that) because too many of their colleagues were holding up their fingers waiting for the political winds to shift?

That is definitional “too little, too late.”

Too little for our violent crime victims … and too late for our communities.

(Click to view)

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In fairness to most of the law enforcement leaders and prosecutors who participated in this press event, the culpability for the scourge of judicial leniency does not fall on them. Nor, frankly, does it even really even fall on the judges who reflexively turn violent criminals loose in our communities. Rather, it falls squarely on the state legislators who knowingly elect – and reelect – those judges despite their clear contempt for the law.

“This press conference is not meant to be an attack, not meant to be an indictment of anyone serving in the General Assembly,” Wilson said.

Really? It should be an indictment and an attack … against everyone in the General Assembly who has presided over this ‘injustice’ system.

Lawmakers have proven they can act fast when they want to. Just this month, both chambers of the legislature rammed through a $1.3 billion crony capitalist “economic development” package for Volkswagen subsidiary Scout Motors.

Seriously, it took them less than two weeks to push that bill through …

Are they saying fixing our broken system of justice is less important than doling out yet another crony capitalist handout?

Um, yes. That is exactly what they are saying.

The longer political leaders stall, the worse this problem is going to become.

“Our citizens need help – they’ve been victimized every day,” Richland County sheriff Leon Lott said. “It’s about protecting our citizens. They’re asking for our help. They want to feel safe.”

“We are all elected to serve the people – let’s do it,” Lott added.

Let’s do it indeed … and while we’re at it, let’s stop the charade of pretending to do something.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Will Folks on phone
Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

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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1 comment

Nanker Phelge March 27, 2023 at 3:47 pm

Never too early for Al to pave the way for more executive power for when he becomes governor.

Reply

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