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Crime & Courts

South Carolina Solicitors: Remove Lawyer-Legislators From Judicial Selection Panel

Prosecutors decry “undue influence” over Palmetto State’s court system …

As South Carolina politicians mull permanent changes to the way judges are picked in the Palmetto State, a group of reform-minded solicitors is pushing for immediate action on the issue.

Nine of South Carolina’s sixteen independently elected solicitors penned a letter this week to two key legislative leaders urging them to “immediately replace” all of the lawyer-legislators currently serving on the Palmetto State’s Judicial Merit Selection Commission (SCJMSC). According to these prosecutors, these lawyer-legislators have “undue influence” over the administration of justice in South Carolina.

As our regular audience is well aware, the SCJMSC is a 10-member panel controlled by its six, powerful lawyer-legislator members. The committee screens judges prior to submitting their names for legislative election – a process rife with corruption and insider deal-making.

South Carolina is one of only two states in America which allows lawmakers to picks judges. As we have seen in far too many cases, lawyer-legislators reap the rewards of their influence over this process by receiving preferential treatment on behalf of their clients. As this news outlet has consistently noted, the current system has enabled institutional corruption, shredded the rights of victims, empowered violent criminals and materially eroded public safety.

It has also turned the judiciary into little more than a political annex of the legislature.

The problem is getting worse, too (see here, here and here).

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“Removing lawyer-legislators will not cure all of the JMSC’s ills, but it will eradicate one symptom and you have the authority to do it,” the solicitors wrote in their letter (.pdf) to S.C. House speaker Murrell Smith and S.C. Senate judiciary chairman Luke Rankin. “Exercising your authority to remove them from the JMSC will send a clear message that you take judicial reform seriously, and you intend to do everything in your power to restore faith in our judicial system.”

Rankin is a current member of the SCJMSC. Smith is a former member who resigned his seat after becoming speaker last year. Both legislative leaders have been part of the problem in Columbia, S.C. on this issue – although Smith recently announced the formation of a legislative panel to study judicial selection reform.

Rankin? He has ignored calls from members of his own chamber to hold hearings on reform bills.

Those tasked with prosecuting violent criminals in South Carolina do not want to wait for legislation. They want Smith and Rankin to act immediately to remove the six current lawyer-legislators currently seated on this panel.

“With the power to appoint comes the power to remove,” the solicitors wrote. “We urge you to replace all lawyer-legislators with non-lawyer members to serve until the General Assembly acts to reform this troubled committee.”

Specifically, they singled out powerful SCJMSC member Todd Rutherford – who gained infamy for (among other things) his starring role in the extra-judicial, illegal and unconstitutional early release from prison of convicted killer/ gang leader Jeroid J. Price.

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RELATED | EVERYTHING THAT’S WRONG WITH ‘JUSTICE’ IN SOUTH CAROLINA

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According to the solicitors, Rutherford leveraged “secret backroom meetings” with retiring circuit court judge Casey Manning for the purpose of obtaining a “sealed order” which freed Price from prison with sixteen years remaining on his “mandatory minimum” sentence.

“(Rutherford) was able to exert extraordinary influence to obtain a remarkably egregious result,” the solicitors noted. “These revelations undermine our judicial system and highlight the reasons public confidence is waning in how we select our judges. Quite frankly, it is shocking that Rep. Rutherford remains in such an important position, and that lawyer-legislators on (SC)JMSC have such influence over our judiciary.”

Rutherford’s response? He accused the solicitors of racism.

The letter was signed by S.C. first circuit solicitor David Pascoe, third circuit solicitor Ernest A. “Chip” Finney III, fourth circuit solicitor William B. Rogers Jr., eighth circuit solicitor David Stumbo, ninth circuit solicitor Scarlett Wilson, tenth circuit solicitor David Wagner, eleventh circuit solicitor Rick Hubbard, twelfth circuit solicitor Ed Clements and sixteenth circuit solicitor Kevin Brackett.

“The JMSC is rotten to its core,” Pascoe told me. “We have some good judges and well intentioned legislators in our state.  But absolute power corrupts absolutely, and giving lawyer-legislators too much power over our judiciary leads to corruption.”  

Second circuit solicitor Bill Weeks, fifth circuit solicitor Byron Gipson, sixth circuit solicitor Randy E. Newman Jr., seventh circuit solicitor Barry Barnette, thirteenth circuit solicitor Walt Wilkins, fourteenth circuit solicitor Duffie Stone and fifteenth circuit solicitor Jimmy Richardson did not sign the letter.

FITSNews has been leading the charge in the hopes of fixing South Carolina’s notoriously corrupt judicial selection process. Unfortunately, lawmakers have steadfastly defended their failed system.

The more they dig in, though, the more pressure they are facing from those tired of being revictimized by the failed status quo …

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THE LETTER …

(Via: Provided)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Will Folks (Dylan Nolan)

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 (soon to be eight) children.

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4 comments

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VERITAS Top fan October 23, 2023 at 6:43 pm

All states MUST … MUST … MUST … disqualify all persons employed within the judicial system from holding office in their state legislation. A body of government enacting laws is in DIRECT CONFLICT with the state’s judicial system, in any capacity.

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Avatar photo
The Colonel Top fan October 23, 2023 at 10:39 pm

Amen

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J Monday Top fan October 24, 2023 at 7:10 am

This system is so jacked up. There are at least 2 worlds colliding here: Legislative & Judicial. Why was this not dealt with years ago? Oh yeah, because the body doing it also makes the laws. Not surprising at all that Duffie Stone didn’t sign the letter. One day when no one is looking Alex Murdaugh will be Jeroid Price.

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Cranston Snord Top fan October 24, 2023 at 7:11 am

Need to upgrade qualifications also . Must require not less than 5 years as a Trial Atty .

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