For the past few years, a handful of legislators have spoken out on the conduct of the Judicial Merit Selection Commission and its lack of following state law on qualifying Judges. Today the House of Representatives and the Senate passed several individuals to continue their unqualified reign as Judges. The JMSC are Attorney/Legislators who are the gatekeepers of our Judicial System. This group of attorney/legislators pick and choose who they wish to sit on the benches of South Carolina Courts. This commission is headed by Sen. Luke Rankin, who brags on his law firm’s website that he has a 99% success rate in court. This sort of success rate is nearly unheard of by most attorneys in any judicial system.
It was known that a secret election was held just two days after the candidate list was finalized and the losers of this election were squeezed out of running for their chosen seats. This is not an unknown act by the JMSC, which has come under fire for this practice in past judicial qualification sessions. These same gatekeepers of the bench also write the report that is given to Senate and House of Representative members stating the candidate’s qualifications. This report fails to state any of the objections common citizens may have stated about the candidate or their questionable acts while on the bench.
In 2018, this was very evident when the report failed to state the issues with Family Court Judge At Large Monet Pincus, whose qualification hearing was held in two different sessions due to complaints brought before the commission by two parents. The report failed to inform members at the State House that this candidate/Judge brought Court Sealed Documents to her hearings without having an order to unseal them. Nor did it state that one parent had brought factual documentation stating this individual’s lack of qualifications and her ignoring of State Law. Nor did it state that it was shown that this Judge showed favoritism to certain attorney’s whom she has a private friendship with. Legislators were also not informed that the second hearing for this candidate was held in a closed-door session which violates JSMC rules.
When these facts was given to certain State Legislators they stated had they known this their vote would have gone differently for that candidate.
At that time the join session was also conducted in a manner that violated the South Carolina Consitution by having non-roll call votes. This means that all votes were done vocally and not recorded per legislator. This practice has changed due to certain legislators raising awareness and strongly protesting this practice. Now each legislator must vote and their vote must be recorded for Judicial Candidates.
But the Senate seems to have voted prior to the actual elections as was evident when the same votes were asked to be applied to every candidate by Senator Shane Massey from Edgefield, for the senate votes.
As an example a Family Court Judge was elected to remain on the bench in the 5th Judicial District, Gwendlyne Young Jones, who does not reside in that Judicial District.
South Carolina State Law requires that Family Court Judges live in the Judicial District that they are appointed in. Judge Jones lives in the City of Irmo, which is the 2nd Judicial District and yet was voted in as a 5th Judicial District Family Court Judge.
SECTION 63-3-30. Judges’ qualifications and terms.
(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. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any former member of the General Assembly may be elected to the office of family court judge.
Are Attorney/Legislators violating their oath of office and their ethical duties in favor of placing candidates upon the bench? And are other legislators not doing their own research into these candidates prior to voting?
A common-sense question that has come to the surface is “Why are Lawyers picking these Judges?”
It is true that the majority of legislators do not hear from their constituents concerning bad judges as much as perhaps they should. But shouldn’t the people we elect to the State House be conducting their own background checks on these candidates? Some legislators actually do this.
This practice of Attorney/Legislators picking the state’s judges brings into severe question that of an unbiased judicial system. The people’s interests are no longer served when a few lawyers decide behind closed doors whos going to be a judge.
One must remember that South Carolina is only one of two states that choose its Judges in this manner, the other being West Virginia.
It would seem that the State of South Carolina is run by a hand full of Attorney/Legislators and not by the people, at least when it comes to the Judicial System.