One of the dirtiest, not-so-little “secrets” in South Carolina is that a handful of lawyer-legislators – six of them, to be precise – choose which judicial candidates get to stand for judge’s elections in the Palmetto State. In other words, not only is South Carolina one of only two states in America in which lawmakers elect judges – but a small clique of lawmakers effectively rig these legislative elections ahead of time.
In the rare event there is a contested race in need of fixing, though, another tool is employed to ensure the desired outcome is reached: Vote-swapping.
For years, my news outlet has been exposing this flagrantly illegal process – which unfolds every year in hidden corners underneath the S.C. State House dome and in dimly lit restaurants and hotel bars on the special interest cocktail circuit.
Seven years ago, I penned a column decrying our state’s “notoriously corrupt judicial selection process” as being a “sordid web of lies, intrigue and vote-trading.” Railing against this “insidious insider dealing,” I remarked how the current system “empowers a left-leaning minority to wield disproportionate impact over the selection process.”
It’s gotten much worse than that in recent years, though. Just this week, I reported on yet another example of how bad the current system has become.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: Lawyer-legislators regularly reap the rewards of their undue influence over the judicial selection process – routinely receiving preferential treatment on behalf of their clients. Such preferential treatment has enabled institutional corruption, shredded the rights of victims, empowered violent criminals and materially eroded public safety. It has also turned the ostensibly independent judiciary into little more than a political annex of the legislature.
“It is time to think big … and act fast,” I noted this week.
“We need immediate judicial reform in South Carolina – especially in the way we elect our judges,” Pascoe said last spring. “We need it now. Public confidence is waning.”
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In the hopes of building momentum, Pascoe has been traveling across the state spreading the word with like-minded lawmakers. On Thursday evening of this week (June 15, 2023), Pascoe is scheduled to make an appearance in the largest city in his judicial circuit – Orangeburg, S.C.
Thursday evening’s event is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. EDT at the Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College (3250 St. Matthews Road). Joining Pascoe will be state representative Joe White of Newberry – who has been leading the fight for judicial reform in the S.C. General Assembly – and state representative Russell Ott of Orangeburg.
At this gathering, Pascoe is reportedly planning to play a recording of what has been described to this news outlet as S.C. Senate majority leader Shane Massey “discussing vote trading” on judicial races.
On the recording, Massey reportedly tells an unknown individual that there is “a lot of vote-swapping” that goes on in the legislature. To his credit, the GOP leader did not voice his approval of the process – but Pascoe’s point seems to be that he’s done nothing to try and stop it.
The recording was reportedly made in April 2020.
“I’m not using it to say Massey or anyone should be charged,” Pascoe told me. “I’m using it to show his previous statements that he’s satisfied with the current method of choosing judges are not consistent with the shenanigans he knows that take place in judicial elections. He knows better.”
“In 2020, an election year, he admitted issues in how we picked judges and that he was open to reform,” Pascoe continued. “(He) even admitted to vote swapping going on which is illegal. He needs to stop walking lock-step with his lawyer-legislator brethren and do what’s right for our state.”
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Massey told me he would be willing to comment if he heard a copy of the tape, but that he was “not going to comment on something I haven’t heard.”
“I don’t remember making any comments like that and, right off the top of my head, don’t know what it would be about,” he said.
“I absolutely think we need to reform the judicial selection process,” Massey continued. “I don’t want to do something that will make it worse, but I think changes need to be made. And I’m more than willing to work with anyone in that pursuit.”
In fairness to Massey, this news outlet plans on circling back with him after Pascoe’s event once the tape has been played in public. We also plan on providing a copy of the recording to our audience.
“I am not saying any of these legislators are corrupt or bad people,” Pascoe told me. “But I am saying the system is rotten to the core. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. We need to change the game.”
UPDATE: Here is our follow-up story including audio from the tape played by Pascoe at this gathering.
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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