Soon-to-be former South Carolina circuit court judge Bentley Price lost his job because he habitually displayed excessive leniency to violent offenders – often at the behest of the powerful lawyer-legislators who appointed him to the bench.
As his term winds down, it’s painfully clear (for victims) that he hasn’t learned his lesson …
Known as the “poster judge” for doling out questionable sentences – and accepting questionable pleas – on behalf of well-connected criminals, Price was found unqualified last October by the South Carolina Bar’s judicial qualifications committee. The following month, the S.C. Judicial Merit Selection Commission (SCJMSC) similarly opted against advancing him as a “qualified” nominee for judicial election.
As a result, Price wasn’t renominated – meaning his tenure on the bench ends in June of this year.
As the clock mercifully ticks down on his time as a judge, Price continues to do favors for well-connected defendants. The only difference? Media outlets are finally calling him out on it.
This week, Price doled out yet another unconscionably lenient bond to 27-year-old Walter Clayton Pate III of Charleston, S.C.
(Click to view)
Pate, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, was arrested last July by Charleston, S.C. police in connection with an alleged assault against a 19-year-old woman that required her to receive treatment at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). Pate allegedly handcuffed his victim to a bed and bound her with rope, according to probable cause affidavits accompanying warrants for his arrest.
While in custody, another woman – Pate’s ex-fiancée – came forward detailing a second alleged assault from March of last year. In this instance, Pate allegedly strangled the woman after she discovered he had taped previous sexual encounters between the two of them without her consent. An audio recording of this attack was made by the victim, and a witness – Pate’s roommate – corroborated her account of being strangled, according to police.
“I hope you die,” Pate allegedly said to the woman as the sounds of him strangling her were reportedly audible on the recording.
The woman accused Pate of punching her multiple times in the face during that attack, police said.
Pate is facing charges of first degree criminal sexual assault and kidnapping in connection with the attack on the 19-year-old and attempted murder charges in connection with the attack against his ex-fianceé. He has separately been charged with voyeurism.
Shockingly – or rather not shockingly in light of Price’s track record – Pate received an incredibly favorable outcome from the court. Specifically, Price agreed to consolidate bond on all of the charges he is facing in the amount of $40,000. Per the terms of the bond, he is prohibited from contacting either of his alleged victims and must undergo a mental health evaluation at a Lowcountry behavioral facility.
Pate’s attorney at the bond hearing? State representative Gil Gatch – one of the most outspoken opponents of judicial reform in the S.C. General Assembly. And, of course, one of the powerful lawyer-legislators who picks judges under the Palmetto State’s current, corrupt system.
Sound familiar? Sadly, it should. Price has been rewarding lawyer-legislators in his courtroom for years – which is why they have reflexively leapt to his defense whenever our media outlet called him out.
South Carolina is one of only two states in America in which lawmakers picks judges – a process led by a shady screening committee dominated by a handful of powerful lawyer-legislators. These political attorneys (and their lawyer-legislator colleagues) routinely reap the rewards of their influence over this process – receiving preferential treatment on behalf of their clients at the expense of judicial integrity.
This inherently unfair 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 – a problem which is getting worse, not better.
Have lawmakers delivered on their promise to fix this corruption? No. In fact, this year has been among the worst on record. In addition to engaging in more of the same corrupt insider dealmaking, legislative leaders are currently working overtime to shut down the reform movement by engaging in an institutional whitewash of the current system.
Oh, and silencing anyone who opposes them …
Price’s impending ouster from his post remains a rare island of accountability in a sea of normalized institutional injustice – the exception, not the rule. Meanwhile, lawmakers appear intent only on tinkering around the edges of their institutional issues as opposed to engaging in real reform.
Thankfully, Price will no longer be able to endanger public safety in the Palmetto State when his term ends in June … but until South Carolina politicians surrender their self-serving stranglehold on “justice,” don’t expect to see an end to unjust outcomes like this.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
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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