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Shane Massey On South Carolina Judicial Elections: “There’s A Lot Of Vote-Swapping”

“I don’t like the way that goes down …”

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As I recently reported, South Carolina first circuit solicitor David Pascoe held an event in Orangeburg earlier this week on judicial reform – an issue which continues to dominate headlines in the Palmetto State due to example after example of entrenched, institutional corruption.

At that gathering, Pascoe played an audio recording in which S.C. Senate majority leader Shane Massey discussed one aspect of this corruption – vote trading in legislative elections for judgeships.

In South Carolina, a handful of lawyer-legislators – six of them, to be precise – choose which judicial candidates stand for judge’s elections in the Palmetto State. So in addition to being one of only two states in America where lawmakers elect judges (Virginia is the other), South Carolina has a small clique of lawmakers which effectively rigs these legislative elections ahead of time.

(Click to View)

Rep. Micah Caskey, left, and Rep. Leon Stavrinakis during a House session on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. (Travis Bell/STATEHOUSE CAROLINA)

In the rare event a contested race is in need of fixing, another tool is employed to reach the desired outcome: Vote-swapping.

In the audio recording – which was reportedly made in early 2020 – Massey discussed vote-swapping with an unidentified woman in the context of judicial races.

“They are very protective of their candidates,” Massey told the woman, referring to the GOP-controlled S.C. House of Representatives. “There is a lot of vote-swapping that goes on in the House on that.”

Vote-swapping occurs when lawmakers agreed to trade their support for specific judicial candidates in exchange for consideration on other judicial races, budget earmarks, favored legislation – or all of the above.

As noted in our coverage yesterday, Massey did not express support for such illegal activity on the recording. In fact, he specifically stated he opposed it.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, I don’t like the way that goes down.”

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Massey expressed uncertainty as to how best to reform the system – seeming to support the legislature remaining in charge of judicial selection.

“I don’t know how you … I mean, that’s a tough one to fix if you’re going to have a legislature electing judges,” he said.

Well … that’s the problem. The legislature has proven itself utterly incapable of discharging this duty in an ethical, above-boards fashion.

“I’m open on the reform part – I’m open to having judges selected a different way,” Massey said on the recording. “I mean, I don’t want to do something that’s going to make it worse – I don’t want to do something that’s going to make the selection process more political and more subjective than what it already is.”

Take a listen …

(Click to View)

Frankly, I’m not sure how South Carolina’s judicial selection process could get any more political or any more subjective than it already is … but I guess anything is possible.

This news outlet has editorialized on what it believes to be the best judicial selection reform – a hybrid model in which governors nominate candidates, lawmakers provide advice and consent and the public gets to hold those choices accountable via recall and retention elections.

Such a plan would spread accountability among the executive and legislative branches – and the public.

So far, state lawmakers – led by Heather Bauer of Columbia and Joe White of Newberry – have proposed only modest modifications to the much-maligned Judicial Merit Selection Commission (SCJMSC), the legislatively controlled panel that rigs the slates of candidates each year. In fairness to them, though, they are attempting to maximize the change that can be effectuated without having to first adopt a constitutional amendment – which would require a two-thirds majority of both chambers of the S.C. General Assembly.

Ultimately, I care less about the process and particular method by which change comes … and more about outcomes. No system is perfect, and all systems are vulnerable to abuse. But the problem with South Carolina’s system is that is incredibly easy to abuse … which is why powerful lawyer-legislators are habitually abusing it.

As for Massey, I have never believed him to be part of the problem in Columbia, S.C. when it comes to fixing our badly broken judiciary.

The question is whether he is willing to be part of the solution …

South Carolina’s broken system 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.

Most damagingly, it has obliterated public trust in our system of justice …

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

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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3 comments

SubZeroIQ June 16, 2023 at 10:26 pm

So, what else is new?
As far back as the Hicks-Harwell/Somebody-Martin election, either Gilda Cobb Hunter or SC State Senator Somebody Ford said, “Today, I sold my soul to a thousand devils.” This reference to Goethe’s Faust is very sophisticated for a non-lawyer South Carolina legislator.
But I will NOT let FITS ignore the TWO elephants (or donkeys or gorillas) in the room.
First huge animal: (1) The non-legislator lawyers on SC’s JMSC: Andrew Safran, the token Hebrew; Hope Blackley and Lucy Grey McIver, the token women; AND Pete Strom, FITS’ pro quod or pro bono lawyer.
Second huge animal: the “citizens” committees which screens the candidates before they even get before SC JMSC. The Midlands Citizen’s Committee had John Grantland. Know him? The one who mysteriously rolled over and made Nautilus pay $3.8M for the bogus claim that dogs caused Gloria Satterfield to trip and die.
Grantland was replaced by one of the worst people ever: William Tetterton of Camden. Not too different from Alex Murdaugh in his fraudulent “glory,” Tetterton represented Larry Wayne Mason against some psychiatrist and blackmailed a $250K settlement.
How? Mason’s concubine, Dinah Gail Steele, shot Larry’s first-born biological son, Richard Wayne Mason, in the face to death with Larry’s gun in Steele’s home. They reported it as a suicide because the psychiatrist discharged Richard, whom no one wanted at home, too soon.
Hush-hush and wink-wink, Kershaw County’s coroner and sheriff ruled it a suicide; no ballistics, no autopsy, no anything; and Richard was immediately cremated.
More shades of Murdaugh-Fleming: Richard’s biological mother, Mary Ann Loop Mason, knows nothing about the settlement. It all went to Tetterton and to Larry.
Don’t ever take my word for anything. Take the public records.
Nor is Richard the only immediate family to die by gunshot wound to the head fired from Larry’s gun in a home occupied by Larry. Larry’s second wife, Ella Faye Kizer Mason, had suffered an eerily similar fate 23 years earlier.
Alan Wilson knows this. Mark Keel knows this. At least one judge knows this.
Dig this up if you dare. Halloween is still four months away.

Reply
jbl1a June 19, 2023 at 8:00 am

I love it when lawyer/legislators like FITs love interest Micah Caskey(nice pic of the joker btw)say the public is stupid and doesn’t understand how the judicial selection system works and that it works well. To say there is no corruption in the statehouse and this whole system means you’re blind or involved.

Reply
SubZeroIQ July 4, 2023 at 8:57 pm

I think Shane Massey and Murrell Smith should look into the non-legislator lawyers on the “citizens” committees and on the Judicial Merit Selection Commission itself.
That is where the real power is; and, unlike legislators, the public is unable to vote those appointees out.

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