When corrupt South Carolina circuit court judge Casey Manning announced his retirement from the bench last year, it was followed by a weeks-long celebration of his “esteemed” career. Manning was feted at parties, praised and honored by lawmakers (and governor Henry McMaster) and generally fawned upon by the Palmetto State’s cliquish legal community.
In the weeks that have followed, though, Manning has obviously torpedoed his legacy (such as it was) thanks to his illegitimate, illegal and unconstitutional release from prison of convicted killer/ gang leader Jeroid J. Price.
This dangerous killer was set free under dubious circumstances by Manning at the request of powerful lawyer-legislator (and S.C. House minority leader) Todd Rutherford – who sits on the influential panel which picks judges in the Palmetto State. S.C. fifth circuit solicitor Byron Gipson appears to have had some role in the process, too – although he has stated publicly that Manning released the murdering gangster from behind bars before he could even file a motion related to the case.
Manning’s order releasing Price – which was originally sealed from public view – expressly violated South Carolina’s mandatory minimums on murder convictions, as contained in § 16-3-20 (A) of the state’s code of laws. More egregiously, it violated the victims’ bill of rights provision of the S.C. Constitution (Article I, Section 24) which affords victims the right to “be present at any post-conviction hearing involving a post-conviction release decision.”
Price remains a fugitive from justice, incidentally … and the leader of the state’s judicial branch of government doesn’t seem to think he owes anyone an explanation for it, either.
And as our news outlet noted at the time, Price’s release wasn’t the only controversial move made by Manning prior to his retirement – reporting which has since been confirmed by The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier.
Is Manning the only judge making such deals, though?
Today (May 16, 2023), veteran S.C. circuit court judge Alison Lee stepped down from her role as an “active retired” judge in the Palmetto State’s fifth circuit. While sources close to the Richland County courthouse told me they “weren’t surprised by (her) announcement,” Lee’s unceremonious departure caught many attorneys in the Midlands region of the state off-guard.
According to one attorney, Lee was scheduled to preside over a case this week in Richland County but the parties were informed by circuit court judge Newman that Lee had “cancelled her term” for the week. When the attorney’s partner reached out to another circuit court judge, they were told Lee “was retiring effective Tuesday.”
A prominent Midlands lawyer – who is a close friend of Lee’s – assured me her retirement was “in the works.”
“She’s been planning it,” the attorney told me.
“If it was in the works it was a complete surprise to everyone in the Richland bar,” one member of that august assemblage told me.
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Court sources insisted Lee’s resignation was not a “complete surprise” to them.
“We’ve been expecting this for months,” one source familiar with the situation told me.
State lawmakers were skeptical of that characterization, though.
“No judge retires on two weeks unless there is something else going on,” one ranking GOP leader told me.
As I often noted, Lee “earned a reputation for excessive leniency when it comes to setting bond for violent criminals in the Palmetto State – which has led to deadly consequences.” This reputation cost her a shot at a federal judgeship – as well as a spot on the state’s second-highest court.
In January of 2013, Lee consolidated bail for then-18-year-old Lorenzo Bernard Young, who was staring down charges of first degree burglary, possession of a weapon during violent crime, criminal conspiracy, three counts of armed robbery, kidnapping and assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.
Several months later, Young murdered 33-year-old Kelly L. Hunnewell – a Columbia, S.C. small businesswoman and single mother of four children aged 6-13 – during a predawn robbery.
Five days before Hunnewell was gunned down, Lee had been nominated by then-U.S. president Barack Obama for a federal district court judgeship. In the aftermath of this incident, though, U.S. senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott both announced they would not support Lee’s nomination – effectively killing it.
To Lee’s credit? She set an appropriately high bond for Alex Murdaugh on a multitude of financial crimes he was facing prior to his eventual indictment for murder in connection with the savage slayings of his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, and younger son, 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh on June 7, 2021.
A native of Washington, D.C., Lee got her start at the McNair law firm where she practiced commercial litigation and employment discrimination law. After five years with the S.C. Legislative Council’s office, Lee was elected to the S.C. Administrative Law Court (SCALC) in 1994 and then to the circuit court in 1999.
She has served as a circuit court judge ever since …
Count on this news outlet to keep our audience in the loop in the event any details emerge related to the timing and circumstances of Lee’s retirement.
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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