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State House

South Carolina Speaker Frustrated By Judicial Reform Push

“Murrell felt embarrassed …”

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Powerful South Carolina speaker of the House Murrell Smith is reportedly frustrated with two of his top lieutenants for failing to keep tighter reins on the S.C. General Assembly’s initial “push” for judicial reform.

You know, to the extent Smith’s bid to fix the Palmetto State’s badly broken judiciary can be characterized as a “push …”

So far, I’d call it a status quo, cover-your-ass circle jerk … but I’ve been told I tend to sugarcoat things.

Anyway, Smith has reportedly called out the two legislative leaders – speaker pro tempore Tommy Pope and judiciary committee chairman Weston Newton – for failing to provide him with adequate protection during the first scheduled meeting of a legislative ad hoc committee devoted to changing the way the Palmetto State picks judges.

South Carolina is currently one of two states in America in which judges are chose by the legislature – a notoriously corrupt, incestuous process that has had profoundly deleterious impacts on public safety, victims’ rights and judicial integrity/ independence.

The first legislative meeting aimed at addressing those impacts – which you can read about here – saw lawmakers called repeatedly out for their corrupt cronyism. Smith found himself the focus of some of the specific criticisms, too.

And was not happy about it …

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“Murrell felt embarrassed,” a source familiar with the process told this media outlet.

Smith formed his ad hoc committee earlier this year shortly after state senator Wes Climer of Rock Hill, S.C. vowed to filibuster any attempt to elect judges under the current system.

“We can’t have judicial elections again without reform.” Climer said.

While the timing certainly appeared to be a case of post hoc ergo proptor hoc, multiple sources familiar with Smith’s thinking on this issue indicated the formation of his panel had actually been in the works well ahead of Climer’s filibuster threat.

Either way, it was an inauspicious start to the “reform” gambit being advanced by Smith and his allies as a way of mollifying a growing chorus eager to make substantive changes to the way judges are currently chosen.

Numerous proposals are being bandied about by lawmakers, executive branch leaders and local solicitors. I’ve also laid out my own reform proposal – although what I envision would require a change to the South Carolina constitution. Some say that is a bridge too far, but as I noted earlier this year “in doing battle against this failed, corrupt system, I do not believe there is any room (or any time) for half-measures.”

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RELATED | THE PERFECT FIX?

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“South Carolina does not need – and cannot afford – to tinker around the edges of institutional injustice. Instead, such injustice must be immediately eradicated,” I noted. “That means completely overhauling our current method of judicial selection. Now.”

Will we see such an overhaul in 2024? Or will “tinkering” be the order of the day?

Several lawmakers familiar with the ongoing debate said Smith is facing a clear choice: Either relent on a more modest reform package this year or face an aggressive push for sweeping change in 2025. However, other lawmakers – including those who support bigger ticket reforms – indicated they planned to maximize pressure on the speaker and his allies during the upcoming partisan primary season.

Every member of the S.C. House of Representatives and the State Senate is up for reelection in 2024. And while the vast majority of these races are not competitive (thanks to racially based gerrymandering), many partisan primary elections are expected to be hard-fought – with judicial reform emerging as a potentially defining issue.

Filing for these seats opens in mid-March, with primary elections scheduled for mid-June.

As for Smith’s ad hoc panel, it just announced it was hosting another meeting tomorrow (Wednesday, December 13, 2023) in Room 110 of the Solomon Blatt Building. Count on our media outlet to be in attendance as we continue holding Smith and others in power accountable for their progress toward real reform … or lack thereof.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

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 and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. 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

J Monday Top fan December 13, 2023 at 7:14 am

I like this guy already. I live in a state that has its own issues, thankfully this isn’t one of them. If the Murdaugh conviction gets overturned bc of his powerful lawyer-legislator attorney & said attorney has the power to later cause problems for new judge appointed to preside…a man who murdered his family in cold blood could potentially get off. That is horrifying. This monster & others like him can benefit under the current incestuous system in S.C. to the detriment of their victims & future victims. Unbelievable.

Reply
Rebecca Shields Top fan December 13, 2023 at 8:50 am

This infuriates me. Just the fact he said that it frustrates him that it wasn’t kept at bay is enough for me to say he should be voted out. He was right in the middle of that Bowen Turner case and it is sickening. He should have put Rutherford off when he was approached about it. This whole damn state is so corrupt. More news outlets need to put pressure on these guys who are delirious with power.

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Skip Hoagland December 18, 2023 at 5:47 pm

Any judge proven to have ruled against the rule of law should be removed. If suspected they did so for friend’s… investigated by authorities, and if found guilty …prosecuted

All my cases in SC were ruled against the rule of law…including my 50 million judgement awarded to the Murdaugh lawyers, former law partners of Alex Murdaugh.

In my defamation cases we caught two judges lying, who both claim they saw the law and evidence for my cases to proceed to trial.. neither Judge can provide this. What does this mean ?

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Nancy Bryson Top fan December 13, 2023 at 11:21 am

Yes, judges’ being chosen by the state legislature sounds corrupt and incestuous, as Will says. I wonder what is the history of this travesty, whether there have been attempts at reform, and how/whether the SC populace at large cares about this. No doubt there is some “pretend” reason from many decades ago that it is done this way.

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