State News

2020-2021 Judical Budget FAMILY COURT FINANCES

The 2020-2021 State Budget Proposal can be found at
https://www.scstatehouse.gov/sess123_2019-2020/appropriations2020/GOVPartIA.pdf

One of the many things we looked at while reviewing this Budget was the Judiciary Branch, how much money is being allotted for our Courts.  I have always been a strong believer in numbers and what story they have to tell.  These numbers tell a very specific story which leads to very specific questions.

The Judicial Branch begins on page 162 of the Budget and concludes on page 167.

The Supreme Court Chief Justice which is Judge Donald Beatty earns $212,160 a year.  Judge Beatty is the Supreme Judge in South Carolina.   Associate Judges on the Supreme Court will divide $808,228, about  $202,057 a piece.  Total Supreme Court will get $5,275,388 for the year, this is to include staff and operating costs.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel is also included in this section, and the total amount for them is $1,125,000.  This Office has been mentioned by us before for their lack in holding Judges and Attorneys accountable for multiple reported violations.  This office is run by John S. Nichols who is the attorney charged by the Supreme Court of South Carolina to hold Judges and Attorneys  accountable and the office is run by attorneys.  https://www.sccourts.org/discCounsel/

The Commission on Conduct receives $4,775,388 Which is a separate department of the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

The Chief Justice of the South Carolina Court of Appeals which is Judge James E. Lockemy will earn $200,036.  Eight Associated Judges in this Court will divide $1,576,040, averaging out to $197,005 a piece.   The Court of Appeals will receive $6,250,676, to include staff and operating exspences.

Circuit Court Judges, which there are 27 will divide $9,405,745averaging to $348,360 a piece.  Total Circuit Court will get is $15,137,745 to include all operating costs and staff.

Family Court Judges will divide $11,214,120, which averages out to $178,001 per Judge.  While the entire Family Court will get $15,177,220 for staff and operating costs.

The Total South Carolina Judicial Department will be budgeted at $92,966,403 for 2020-2021. 

Now when you first look at these numbers they seem preportinate to each other, but let us look closer to one section, Family Court.  Family Court Judges are responsible for cases held under Domestic Relations Law (Family Law) and are a Court of Equity (Property Court).  These Judges are said to be the lowest qualified individuals in our Judiciary hierarchy, with little to no training that one would imagine would be needed to determine such issues as “BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD”, which is the guiding rule in Family Courts or it’s suppose to be.  These Judges are charged with the fate of our children and families in South Carolina.  But as of late these Judges have come under critizism of corruption and unfairness.  It’s also worthy to note that Family Court Judges and Attorneys are protected from prosecution of any wrong doing by State Statue.

What you will notice is that their salaries only differ by  $34,159 from the Supreme Court Justice salary.  Also let us remember that these Judges are chosen by the General Assembly which itself is comprised of Attorneys by about 80%.  These attorneys will be at some point arguing cases in front of these Family Court Judges.  If you pay attention you will already begin to see the possibility for a conflict of interest.  On average each year the Legislators ask for more money for Family Courts siting overworked Courts and understaffed offices.  You will also not that on page 164 on the very third line it says Unclassified Positions.  Unclassified Positions in 2019=2020 received $3,925,000 and for 2020-2021 it will receive only $1,800,00 for salaries.  This is a drop of $3,745,000 worth of salaries for staffing.  These positions are not elected by the General Assembly but are your 8-5 works.    In other words we will be cutting their salaries while Judges remain the same.  Again one might see some favoritism showing here.

So what are the qualifications of a Family Court Judge to earn such high dollars?

  • They must be 32 years of age
  • Must have been a Licensed/Practicing Attorney in South Carolina for at least 8 years
  • Must be a United States Citizen
  • Must be a resident of the Circuit in which they seek election

The Statue can be found here:  https://www.scstatehouse.gov/code/t63c003.php.

As these Judges deal with families and children one would believe that these Judges would have more qualifications, such as be required to take or have taken Forensic Psychology, Children Psychology, or even some sort of qualification in Criminal Forensics to deal with abuse cases.  But there are no such current requirements for an individual who will decide the fate of children and families.  There are no such qualifications needed and yet their salaries would demand this.

The Daily Counter has run a number of articles concerning Family Courts and its Judges, such as Opinions are Law in Family Courts, Divorce the Money Maker, and Rosalyn Frierson-Smith Punishes Poor Father and Forces Hearing without Father’s Lawyer Present.  But we are not the only News Media who have run such stories, The Post and Courier, The State, and Myrtlebeachsc.com all have run similar stories showing the lack of qualifications and sometimes the miss use of their authority by Judges.  This is not the say there aren’t any good Judges, we do know of a few.

We also noticed that on page 125 of the State Budget something peculiar showed up,  a line with salaries for Guardian ad Litems.  A Guaridan ad Litem or simply GAL is normally an Attorney or Lay person appointed by the Courts to safe guard the best interest of the children in cases.  These Attorneys and Lay persons are paid by the parties in these cases, but yet the State Budget has allocated $4,368,125 for salaries for Guardian ad Litems.    The question arises are these individuals collecting money twice for their services, a practice commonly known as “DOUBLE DIPPING”.  It’s also note worthy that the Courts appoint more attorney GAL’s than they do Lay persons.

Let’s also take a look at the money South Carolina gets from Social Security Act Title IV-D.  Established in 1975 under a new part D of Title IV of the Social Security Act, the government program, usually called the Title IVD program is a Federal/State partnership whose primary mission is to enforce child support obligations against non-custodial parents.  In other words, in looking at the Federal Social Security ActTitle IV, Part D, Section 458, you will see language that allows the US Federal Government to give back “Incentive Payments” to US states for performance based child support collection, paternity establishment, and administrative costs.  The traditional practice is that for every dollar the State claims to the Federal Government, they will receive $3 in return.  https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/ssact/title04/0400.htm

In 2010 South Carolina received $41,360,023 from Title IV-D.  In 2011 the State received $36,778,824 and in 2012 South Carolina requested $32,976,075 for Title IV-D funds.  https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/olab/cse.pdf

These amounts with the amounts that Attorneys charge which sometimes reach into the upper multiple-thousands is simply why we look at numbers, and one can see the amount of money that circulates with the secrecy of Family Courts.  One of the more widely heard statements concerning Family Courts is “You Get As Much Justice As You Can Pay For”.  This could  also be  one of the many reasons why practiionars of Family Law do not wish to alter the current outdated laws.

Are Lawyer/Politicians paying Family Court Judges for favors by giving them these high salaries, so that they may be viewed favorably in their Courts?  Should Family Court Judges have more qualifications besides being simple lawyers to earn these salaries?  And are our Children and Families paying the price for it all?

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