For many years now this commission at the South Carolina State House has been accused of being asleep at the wheel when it comes to their duties of selecting and passing judges for the state.
The commission is comprised of the following members: Representative G. Murrell Smith Jr. (R-Sumter), Senator Luke Rankin (R-Horry), Senator Ronnie A. Sabb (D-Williamsburg), Representative J. Todd Rutherford (D-Richland), Senator Scott Talley (R-Spartanburg), Representative Jeffrey E. “Jeff” Johnson (R-Horry), Ms. Hope Blackley-Logan, Mr. Andrew N. Safran, Mr. J.P. “Pete” Strom and Ms. Lucy Grey McIver.
These individuals are responsible for screening any candidates who wish to become a judge in Circuit, State, and Family Courts. It is noticeable from the beginning that nearly all these members are attorney’s who practice law in these very courts. Now the question has repeatedly arised that this would be a conflict of interest when these attorneys or their firms hear a case in front of any judge, due that they placed that individual on the bench. The excuse that is often given is that the Joint House of Representatives and Senate actually votes the candidates into office.
In the following report the Commission summarizes its inquiry into the candidates that were before them. One Candidate, Judge Gwendlyn Young Jones, a 5th Judicial Circuit Family Court Judge was qualified by this very commission to continue as a 5th Judicial Circuit Family Court Judge. But in the report Judge Jones states that she lives in Irmo, SC., this alone disqualifies her as a 5th Judicial Circuit Judge.
State Law SECTION 63-3-30 which covers the qualifications for Judges clearly states that “A)(1) No person shall be eligible to the office of family court judge who is not at the time of his assuming the duties of such office a citizen of the United States and of this State, and has not attained the age of thirty-two years, has not been a licensed attorney at law for at least eight years, and has not been a resident of this State for five years next preceding his election, and is not a resident of the circuit wherein the family court of which he is a judge is located. “.
Judge Jones who states she lives in Irmo which is the 2nd Judicial Circuit does not live in the district she has been allowed to be a Family Court Judge in. Not to mention the report does not cover any of the numerous complaints that were handed in on this Judge or any of the other Judges who had complaints filed about them.
This is not the first time that the JMSC has failed to inform Legislators of such issues with Judges they have qualified.
In 2018 a Family Court Judge had 2 Parents come to the hearing to speak out against her qualifications. One parent had physical evidence (documentation) that showed the qualifications of that Judge did not meet the required standards. To make it worse to defend herself from the parents allegations this family court judge brought a sealed court document with her, without an order of unsealment. When asked how she acquired this document she simply stated she was a Family Court Judge and had that ability. This judges hearing was continued into a second hearing which was held behind closed doors (which again violates this commissions guidelines as all hearings are to be open to the public) without the parent and other objectors being allowed to enter to show the commission the prove he was asked to bring, by them.
The Commission qualified this judge and failed to enter any of the objections into their report which was distributed to all House Representatives and Senators. Several representatives and senators stated that they had no idea this judge was such an issue when they voted her in. Many having stated they would have asked questions of the commission or voted differently. But at this time Legislators were also doing non-rocall voting for judges. This meant no legislator’s vote could be seen on the board. This practice was questioned by several legislators who walked out in protest, demanding that each vote be done by roll call as is the guideline.
Another questionable act by the Judicial Merit Selection Commission was for a Circuit Court Judge who had issued a warrant for an elderly mother, Brenda Bryant, who had fought for her daughter after it was discovered that her daughter who suffers from mental issues was raped while in the state facility. Brenda Bryant is now listed as an Enemy of the State. More of this story can be found at myrtlebeachsc.com.
At the reconfirmation hearing for this Circuit Court Judge, the commission excused his behavior and his signing of this order instead of questioning him on it. Brenda Bryant’s husband was there and demanded that this Judge be held accountable for his actions which has kept his wife on the run. The order stated that Ms. Bryant was to be held 1 year or until death, for not complying with a Court Order.
The Commission needs new blood and less lawyers state several citizens who struggle for Judicial Reform. Many of the Judicial Reform advocates state that the first one that needs to be gone is Senator Luke Rankin, who has repeatedly come under fire for his actions at the state house. These actions range from his involvement in the Santee-Cooper fiasco to his comparing himself to Jesus Christ for his resolution of the issue, and more recently his practice of dirty politics in his running against John Gallman during the most recent voting period for Horry County.
Senator Rankin also brags on his Law Firm website that he has a 99% success rate in court. Which is not surprising if you are the one ensuring these Judges stay on the bench.