After being found unqualified by the South Carolina Bar’s judicial qualifications committee last month, embattled circuit court judge Bentley Price of Charleston found himself before the similarly embattled South Carolina Judicial Merit Selection Commission (JMSC) this month. Price has been the subject of a great deal of scrutiny over the past few years after doling out some questionable sentences – and accepting some questionable pleas – in the S.C. ninth judicial circuit.
Despite the bar finding him “unqualified,” Price is not abandoning his bid for another term on the circuit court bench. Why not? Because a powerful lawyer-legislator, S.C. House minority leader Todd Rutherford, is said to have encouraged him to remain in the running. Not only that, several lawyer-legislators who have benefitted from Price’s questionable rulings – and publicly defended him in the face of withering criticism – were reportedly rallying to his defense.
An “unqualified” finding by the bar is generally a kiss of death for candidates seeking to make their way through the Palmetto State’s exceedingly political judicial selection process. However, Price’s institutional support runs deep despite the fact he has been repeatedly – and rightfully – excoriated by those adversely impacted by his lapses in judgment.
Of interest? The JMSC hearing for Price was held on the same day a House judicial reform panel heard proposals for changing the way judges are picked in the Palmetto State.
“For those of you unfamiliar with this ongoing institutional racket, the Palmetto State is one of only two states in America in which powerful lawyer-legislators picks judges,” our founding editor Will Folks has frequently noted. “As we have seen in far too many cases, the politicians picking the judges turn around and reap the rewards of this influence by receiving preferential treatment on behalf of their clients.”
As anticipated, Price’s hearing was long – and contentious.
The JMSC received a total of 822 ballot box survey responses regarding Price. Ballot box surveys are requests sent to all members of the South Carolina Bar – asking them to weigh in on the performance and qualifications of sitting judges and attorneys running for judicial vacancies. These surveys are kept anonymous and are utilized by the commission during public hearings to direct their questioning of the candidates.
Of the 822 surveys returned, nearly 200 of them provided additional written comments for consideration. The commission stated while several had positive comments, 76 returned surveys expressed additional concerns. The concerns brought forward by respondents included comments about Price’s “quick and or erratic mood swings,” his “handling of certain criminal matters” and “concerns about inappropriateness of treatment of women.”
When asked to respond to concerns about his treatment of women, Price was incensed.
“I think that that was the only thing that I took complete and total offense to was that somebody would say that I treated women, any different women, lawyers, women, anything, any different whatsoever,” Price said.
Will Price’s powerful allies on this panel be enough to keep him in his seat? Or will there finally be some accountability for his ongoing endangerment of public safety in the Palmetto State?
We will find out soon …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Jenn Wood is FITSNews’ incomparable research director. She’s also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she’s married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at [email protected].
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