Judicial Reform: Appearance of Impropriety

Every year when the South Carolina Legislature goes back into session, there’s a number of things that always happen; the calls for Judicial Reform being among them. Each year, many activists as well as those who feel they’ve been screwed over by the judicial system begin screaming for reform only to be largely ignored.  Who can blame them for trying when no other state selects judges the way South Carolina does?

Legislators appoint judges, many of whom are attorneys, and then those attorneys continue to practice law bringing cases before the very judges they have employed. How can anyone going up against a lawyer/legislator possibly get a fair hearing? At the very least, it screams with the appearance of impropriety making it impossible to determine whether or not there was favoritism if you lose to such a system.

And, what about those seeking to become a judge, like Grace Knie of Campobello? Over the past few years, she and her husband (Patrick) have donated a lot of money to legislators and candidates to become legislators.  If we only focus on the donations which really matter, those to legislators who are currently serving and actually have a say (vote) on whether or not Knie becomes a judge, donations totaling $11,300 have been made to the following 19 legislators:

*Scott Talley (R) = $700
*Mike Gambrell (R) = $250
*Luke Rankin (R) = $500
*Gerald Malloy (D) = $500
Vincent Sheheen (D) = $1,000
*Katrina Shealy (R) = $250
Glenn Reese (D) = $1,000
John Courson (R) = $250

Derham Cole (R) = $750
Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D) = $1,100
*Gary Clary (R) = $2,000
Michael Anthony (D) = $250
Neal Collins (R) = $250
Justin Bamberg (D) = $250
Christopher Hart (D) = $100
*Eddie Tallon (R) = $400
Harold Mitchell (D) = $1,000
Speaker Jay Lucas (R) = $500
*Todd Rutherford (D) = $250

*Currently sits on Judiciary Committee

Taking all these donations into consideration, $7,000 (or 62%) has been donated within the past year.

Republicans received $5,850 (52% of the donations).

Democrats received $5,450 (48% of the donations).

Those currently sitting on a Judiciary Committee (screening applicants) received $4,850 (43% of donations).

We provided this information to someone completely non-political, who didn’t know how judges were appointed and asked the question, “Does this seem inappropriate?” Our man-on-the-street replied, “Seems like strategy.”

We can’t argue with that, it does seem like “strategy” but is this the way we want our judicial system structured in South Carolina? At the very least, those who have received donations from the Knie family should be required to recuse themselves from either screening or voting on Grace Knie. We should have no problem at this point with those legislators who received donations as it is likely that most had no idea she would be up for a judicial appointment when they accepted the donations. But, if they actually participate in screening or vote for her, how can it not give the appearance of impropriety?

How can a judicial system continue to exist when the people have no faith in the system?

How can the people ever have faith in a system so ripe for corruption?

Bottom Line: When the very folks (legislators) who directly benefit from a corrupt system (and have the power to change it) continue to ignore the cries of the people calling for reform – this is all the proof we actually need that our worse fears are true.