Lori Williams is tired of being ignored. Tired of being dismissed. Tired of being “brushed off.” She’s also tired of waiting for justice in the case of her brother, Larry Vaughan.
A retired Rock Hill, South Carolina police lieutenant, Vaughan was beaten to death in the summer of 2021. His accused murderer, former Chester County sheriff’s deputy Evan Hawthorne, was controversially released on bond a little over a year ago after his attorney – powerful lawyer-legislator Todd Rutherford – manipulated the docket to ensure Hawthorne appeared before the “right” judge (and got the “right” result).
As Williams waits for her brother’s accused killer to stand trial, most of all she is tired … of losing faith.
“I have to have faith in a system that my brother protected for thirty years,” Williams told me. “But I’m losing that faith.”
“It’s happening out in the open – they don’t try to hide it anymore,” Williams said, referring to the corruption in South Carolina’s badly broken judicial branch of government . “It’s not a fact of who’s the better lawyer … its who is the cheater. I mean, (they’re) not lawyering any better than the next one – they’re just doing some underhanded stuff and then having the power to conceal it.”
According to Williams, lawmakers aren’t taking the problem seriously because they’ve never had to experience the sort of pain and loss she and other victims have endured.
“Is it gonna take, God forbid, something like what happened to my family happening to one of those legislators’ families to where they stand before a committee and they get brushed off like they don’t matter?” she asked.
“It’s happening out in the open – they don’t try to hide it anymore.”
In our conversation, Williams addressed the contention among some powerful lawyer-legislators that the system they control doesn’t have a problem – just the “perception” of a problem. This line was parroted just last week by S.C. senator Gerald Malloy.
“I don’t want to spend all this time fixing a problem that’s (just) perceived,” Malloy told his fellow senators during their first hearing on the issue of judicial selection reform.
“It’s not public perception,” Williams said. “I’m here. My feet are in the muck. I’m not making it up. I’m telling you what happened. I saw it with my own eyes. I’m not the only one – there’s plenty of people that see it, there’s plenty of people that are standing beside me and behind me that are victimized, too.”
Like so many others challenging the failed status quo, Williams questioned whether lawmakers were serious about truly addressing the inequities in the current system.
“Do they care?” Williams asked. “I think in some of their hearts they do, and they wanna make a difference – but are we really gonna fix the problem? I don’t know. I don’t see it happening.”
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. 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.
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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