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South Carolina’s Scandal-Scarred Judicial Panel Is Picking Judges Again

But a growing reform movement is building momentum …

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The scandal-scarred South Carolina Judicial Merit Selection Commission (SCJMSC) has once again begun its annual process of screening judicial candidates. As our audience is well aware, FITSNews has long reported on how the SCJMSC’s domination by state lawmakers – specifically a clique of powerful lawyer-legislators – erodes the Palmetto State’s separation of powers and creates a judiciary beholden to the legislature. We have also long reported on the chronic abuses of power this perverse incentive structure invites.

For years, our coverage fell on deaf ears at the S.C. State House – but no longer.

Multiple state lawmakers – led by freshman Joe White of Newberry – filed judicial reform bills last legislative session, bills which yielded immediate internal blowback from leaders of both political parties. Legislative leaders who have spent years grinding their way up the political ladder weren’t about to abdicate their powerful positions just because some conscientious back-benchers pointed out the obvious – that South Carolina is one of two states in America where the legislature appoints judges.

And that this incestuous system is failing the people of the Palmetto State …

For months, it seemed as though these reform bills – and any accompanying hopes for real reform – were deader than doornails as powerful lawyer-legislators refused to co-sponsor them or advance them through the legislature.

Things began to change when executive branch heavyweights jumped into the fray. Attorney general Alan Wilson convened a press conference in March along with many of the state’s independently elected solicitors and sheriffs – but at that point there was still insufficient public pressure being brought to bear on the problem.

(Click to View)

(Via: Dylan Nolan/FITSNews)

Everything changed on the morning of April 17, 2023, when this media outlet published an exclusive report on the illegal, unconstitutional release from prison of convicted killer/ gang leader Jeroid J Price.

The Price story shattered the status quo’s grip over this process … fundamentally reorienting the entire debate.

To recap: Price was secretly freed from prison fifteen years early after SCJMSC member Todd Rutherford conspired with solicitor Byron Gipson and now retired circuit court judge Casey Manning to secure his release.

After an emergency supreme court hearing determined Price’s release was indeed illegal, he was ordered back into the custody of the S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC). By that time, though, Price had already fled the state – and a manhunt ensued. The publicity surrounding the circumstances of Price’s release – and the manhunt – exposed many members of the public to the endemic corruption that’s all too common in South Carolina’s court system.

(Click to View)

(Via: FITSNews YouTube)

White and other lawmakers seized upon this momentum, holding a press conference with the parents of the man Price murdered. Along with freshman lawmaker Heather Bauer, veteran democratic lawmaker Gilda Cobb-Hunter also lent her support to the reform movement.

Bipartisan cooperation extended to the S.C. Senate, too.

Senators Dick Harpootlian and Wes Climer, in particular, put their political capital on the line – which in turn forced House leaders to start taking the issue more seriously. Harpootlian proposed multiple important reforms in a letter sent to S.C. Senate judiciary chairman Luke Rankin. Harpootlian – himself a lawyer-legislator – nonetheless suggested neutering the ability of the ten-person SCJMSC to effectively pick the state’s judiciary. Specifically, he asked that all candidates deemed qualified by the panel be voted on by the S.C. General Assembly – and that candidates be prevented from removing themselves from consideration once they submit their application.

According to Harpootlian, candidates who lack the support of powerful lawyer-legislators are often threatened with being found unqualified – thus ensuring the panel’s preferred candidate is the only one who proceeds through the process.

Climer had seen enough of this vote-rigging, and vowed to filibuster any attempt to elect judges under the current system.

Within a day of Climer’s threat, powerful House speaker Murrell Smith announced the creation of a judicial reform study committee, which he tasked with producing a reform bill no later than February 2024. Given the convenient timing of this announcement, FITSNews founding editor Will Folks called the move “self-serving, circle-jerking, cover-your-ass grandstanding.”

Sources have since confirmed Smith’s panel was actually in the works for some time, but the optics of its announcement were certainly less-than-ideal.

The committee, which met this week, quickly proved Folks’ assessment prescient. In convening the gathering, SCJMSC chairman and study committee member Micah Caskey took a swipe at “some elected officials and bloggers” who have been vocal about the need for change not attending the meeting in person.

Caskey also accused this media outlet of “pay-to-play” on the issue of judicial reform – a charge Folks is apparently quite eager to address under oath.

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While the study committee is comprised of several lawmakers whom this news outlet believes will be genuine advocates for worthwhile reform, leadership’s seeding of the committee with members dedicated to preserving the status quo – like Caskey – strongly suggests there is only a superficial desire for change.

“Change in name only,” if you will.

FITSNews has attended – and will continue to attend – SCJMSC’s public hearings, and will provided continued coverage of the House’s attempt to formulate a reform bill. In fact, stay tuned for additional coverage of both of these important judicial reform tracks in the days and weeks to come.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Via: Travis Bell)

Dylan Nolan is the director of special projects at FITSNews. He graduated from the Darla Moore school of business in 2021 with an accounting degree. Got a tip or story idea for Dylan? Email him here. You can also engage him socially @DNolan2000.

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8 comments

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VERITAS Top fan November 8, 2023 at 6:35 pm

No one does it better than FITS NEWS on anything South Carolina criminality and corruption … and INJUSTICE. Please keep hammering on this. South Carolina is being held hostage when it comes to the absolutely INSANE practice of legislators putting judges in place. The PUBLIC needs to ELECT judges. END. OF. STORY.

Reply
ScalesOfJustice November 9, 2023 at 7:49 am

FITSNEWS is the best!

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ScalesOfJustice November 9, 2023 at 7:47 am

The corruption and lawlessness have been horribly bad for decades in the entire South Carolina judicial system. And it even has been noted happening inside the Charleston County Public Defender Office. But the good old boy system kept things under wraps and protected the psychopaths who foolishly walk around nicely dressed, with their nice smiles, warped mindset while thinking that they are some kind of powerful God.

Abuse and misuse of public offices, public employment, public money, all of it is real as real can be. Hard to get away with it when more and more are outspoken and unafraid to report about it,

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jbl1a November 9, 2023 at 7:58 am

Take notice, Rutherford….lawyer, Harpootlian….lawyer, Smith…..lawyer, Rankin….lawyer, Caskey….smart ass lawyer. See the pattern. Fox/henhouse…..

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SubZeroIQ November 10, 2023 at 1:25 pm

If I were unprincipled, I would have loved the spectacle of Micah Caskey and Will Folks tearing at each other. I would have loved it under the theory of the “enemy of my enemy is my friend.” But I have a higher theory, which is love thy enemy. To love one’s enemy is to make him/her better.
So, God willing and FITSNews permitting, this comment (if it sees the light of day) tries to make Micah Caskey a better Chairman and Will Folks a better journalist.
Dylan Nolan WAS there and filming, at least on Monday 6 November 2023 and at least the part on the sole candidate for SC Chief Justice, John Williamson Kittredge and one of the candidates for the SC Court of Appeals, Whitney B. Harrison.
A detour here about Whitney Harrison, for whom this is the second or third time. She was one of Pete Strom’s co-counsel in the failed reactor project. The electricity customers had been promised a thousand dollar refund each; but each got only around ten dollars. Whitney Harrison testified in her prior time that her involvement with that case and with Pete Strom made her independently wealthy so where she can now forever live on a judge’s salary which is NOT pittance but approaches $200K/year. Pete Strom was not there, perhaps because he has a tendency to talk too much and, in the process, reveal his own nepotism.
Of course, FITSNews says NOTHING about the fact that SC JMSC has ONLY six lawyers legislators who serve LIMITED terms, three non-legislator LAWYERS (Pete Strom, Andrew Safron, and Lucey McIvers) who apparently serve UNLIMITED terms; and only ONE non-lawyer member of the public: Ms. Hope Blackley.
Nor does FITSNews say ANYTHING about the so-called “citizens screening committees” which are composed entirely of lawyers WITH UNLIMITED TERMS including the hopelessly corrupt William Tetterton, who MIGHT HAVE BEEN INVOLVED in faking the death of a criminal client, Christopher James Mason and of passing off the POSSIBLE murder of another person, Richard Wayne Mason, as a suicide to enable Richard’s father, Larry Wayne Mason, to sue Richard’s psychiatrist and squeeze a $250K settlement.
But that is another detour.
Dylan Nolan was there on Monday, 6 November 2023, and filming when SC JMSC told Kittredge that at least one complaint was filed against him but was dismissed because it does not relate to Kittredge’s “character.”
In fact, that complaint was an affidavit, supported by documents, showing that Kittredge’s “character” includes lying and forcing the relatively new clerk of SC’s Supreme Court to tell lies for him.
That complaint also showed, with supporting references, that Kittredge’s “character” includes using his authority to obtain favors from politicians and gets “livid” when people do not give him preferential treatment.
Let’s call things by their names. Kittredge’s late maternal grandfather had been convicted of the federal FINANCIAL CRIME of price fixing.
Let’s call the same things by their same names: Alex Murdaugh’s (“AM”) financial crimes are fake cases presented to insurance companies. Kittredge’s maternal granfather’s financial crimes were price fixing. The “only” victims are big companies you say? NOT SO. The big companies pass their losses to the consumers who are always the end victims, whether in the form of higher insurance premiums or higher prices of consumer goods when prices are fixed.
So, some sycophant put “a bug in [Kittredge’s] ear” to get a post-humous pardon for his grandfather, which never gets granted.
The obsessive-compulsive Kittredge gets rejected, becomes “livid,” contacts Lindsey Graham and Trey Gawdy, who go to bat for Kittredge, and the pardon issues. Kittredge becomes extatic and “cannot wait” to run to his mother with the pardon.
Does Kittredge care that the public would perceive that as his getting special treatment because of his position? Apparently he welcomes that perception of himself as above the law he pretends to uphold.
Does SC JMSC perceive that a problem with Kittredge’s character? Apparently not because it did not allow that complaint against Kittredge to be aired.
Did Dylan Nolan report any of that? Of course not, the person who filed that complaint does not pay FITSNews and refuses to even subscribe to his blog.

Now turning to Caskey, he received a copy of that complaint. Why did he not want it to be heard? Ask him. Heck, ask Pete Strom for that matter.

What else is a problem of Kittredge’s character? Pretty much everything; but his violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) shows his lack of compassion to disabled people no less than AM’s alleged lack of compassion to the wheel-chair-bound Hakeem Pinckney.
You see? The SC Supreme Court building has a good and functioning wheel-chair ramp IN THE BACK OF THE BUILDING which opens to the parking lot which UNTIL 2022 had at least two handicapped parking spaces open to the public.
In anticipation of Emperor Kittredge becoming SC Chief Justice and becoming “livid” when he is not treated above all other mortals because of his position, some lawyers got together and raised money to mess with that hitherto-public parking lot and close it off to the public because Emperor Kittredge does not want the public approching “the Fobidden City.”
So, the SC Supreme Court’s public parking lot gets fenced off and closed off to the public, handicapped parking spaces, ADA ramp, and all.
That is of course illegal on so many levels and Kittredge knows it or should know it. But he doesn’t care because he can force people to lie for him.
So, Kittredge forces the Clerk of SC’s Supreme Court to lie in the U.S. mail and send at least one letter pretending tha ANOTHER ADA ramp is being built IN THE FRONT OF THE BUILDING.
Not only is that a lie, it is a STUPID one because there is no place to put an ADA ramp in the front of the building and no need for one there because there is already one in the back of the building.
Again, the only problem with ADA ramp in the back of the building is that incoming Emperor Kittredge does not want what he considers lesser creatures of God entering his “Forbidden City.”
Dylan Nolan was told all of that on Monday, 6 November 2023. Did he report any of it? Of course not, the person who informed Dylan Nolan of that is NOT paying FITSNews, Tetterton, or Pete Strom.
Now the question is for Caskey: why did he not want his SC JMSC to hear that complaint against Kittredge?

Reply
jbl1a November 11, 2023 at 6:31 pm

Caskey is nothing more than a smart ass clown/lawyer/legislator but he’s making out to be a good lap dog for his rino bossess in the statehouse

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SubZeroIQ November 12, 2023 at 10:06 am

FITS, I might as well add my other thoughts on this thread.
You suggested Jean Toal instead of Judge Newman to hold the evidentiary hearing in the cae of Richard Alex Murdaugh (“RAM”).
The former Active/Retired South Carolina Chief Justice, for all her good qualities, is the one who fostered and nurtured the NEPOTISM, NEPOTISM, AND THEN MORE NEPOTISM culture of judging in South Carolina.
She may have inherited it from her predecessors; but she did NOTHING to end it.
HERE IS A BETTER IDEA: bring the three living and mentally competent RETIRED U.S. Supreme Court Justices: Kennedy, Souter, and Bryer; and ask them to sit in a panel of three.
Sandra Day O’Connor is still alive but she suffers from that which hit her mother and from which the late Justice Ginsburg had been spared.
In many countries, trial judges sit in panels of three. These are the countries without jury systems. But since this is a fact-intensive finding, it would be appropriate to have a panel of three jurists.
Retired Justice Breyer was appointed by Bill Clinton and is Jewish. Retired Justice Souter was appointed by GHW Bush (father) and is Episcopalian. Retired Justice Kennedy was appointed by Ronald Reagan and is Catholic.
Of the three, only Souter served as a state trial judge in New Hampshire and liked to speak to jurors after trials. But Breyer was once himself summoned for jury duty and showed up. He was, of course, not chosen by either side because each side feared the rest of the jurors will follow what a then-sitting U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice thinks. So, this may be the next best thing to the jury service Breyer never got to accomplish if that is on his bucket list.
Once confirmed by the U.S. Senate, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice is confirmed for life and may, after retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court, sit (and at least Souter and O’Connor sat) on the federal circuit courts of appeals. But there is no chance of RAM’s case ever going to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, where Souter sometimes sat after retiring from the U.S. Supreme Court. In my opinion free from false humility, this is the only way this fractured country will ever have any confidence in any FACT-FINDING involving RAM.
The only problem with this idea is whether three advanced octogenarians can be convinced to come to South Carolina, whether Colloton County or Columbia; but may be the lure of some sunny days to escape the fall/winter drear of Boston and New Hampshire may do the trick.
No joke. Really.

Reply
SubZeroIQ November 14, 2023 at 5:31 am

People are attacking me SIMPLY BECAUSE they did NOT bother to read Becky Hill’s ENTIRE book. I DID.
I DID read Becky Hill’s ENTIRE book and am even more bothered about things others NEVER NOTICED and are not talking about.
What bothered me MOST OF ALL is the revelation in Becky Hill’s book pages 59-60 that a juror who voted guilty then flew expense-free to New York to talk about the quick verdict on national TV had received THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS to stay on the jury instead of returning to work and being replaced by an alternate.
TO ME, this is a BIGGER STORY than anything Becky Hill did or did not do.
THAT IS straight BRIBING a juror.
Who are that man’s three friends who paid him “thousands of dollars”? What was their motive for doing that?
Was that even their own money or were they funnelling it from someone else?
YOU and I do need to know all those ADDITIONAL facts. But what Becky Hill ALREADY wrote about that is shocking enough.

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