Most South Carolinians believe that the States Judicial System is as we see on television, “Guilty Until Proven Innocent” and that factual evidence is used in these cases. For the most part, they are right, but below the surface of this judicial system is a well-kept secret buddy system that is used more often than one thinks. This buddy system is seen more in the Domestic Relations Court (Family Court) Industry than in regular criminal courts within the state, it is a shadow system within the state with tentacles reaching out to many and various areas such as law enforcement and DSS and other agencies.
So what is this system and how does it work?
The most common is an attorney reaching out to a friend (who is a Judge) and asking them to sign an order or request in their favor. To make this look legal there usually is held what is called an “Ex Parte Hearing”, which is most commonly known as an ambush hearing. For example, An attorney would like to get their hands on someone’s medical records (which are protected by HIPPAA Laws (laws governing a person’s medical information)). They would simply file a motion with the courts requesting the court force this information to be released to them. Then an Ex Parte hearing is held ( a hearing done with respect to or in the interests of one side only ), usually with only the attorney who is requesting this information being present, or in many cases without the other side even being informed. The judge listens to their friend and signs the order granting their request. Done.
By definition, Ex Parte hearings are only allowed in emergency situations or to discuss the scheduling of a case as stated in the law.
But not surprising the secret buddy system seems to bypass the law in many cases. The number of Ex Parte hearings held in domestic relations cases is staggering within South Carolina. What makes it more horrific is many times the other party is not even made aware that an Ex Parte hearing was held. Leaving them without any defense and simply being told to follow the administered court order.
So, how does a system like this even come into being? In South Carolina judges are appointed by the Judicial Merit Selection Commission which is comprised of… you guest it, Lawyers! Currently, the Chair of the Judicial Merit Selection Commission is Senator Luke Rankin, who states on his law firm’s website that he has a 99% success rate in courts. This percentage is unheard of by any law firm in South Carolina or the Nation. This is a system of lawyers picking the judges they want, and perhaps some judges feel indebted. But that is not all, some judges within the state are close personal friends with many of the lawyers who come before them. We forget these judges were lawyers once too and had many interactions both personal and professional with the attorneys who now come before them.
Judges must follow the law, correct? That question is a two-edged sword! Yes, judges must follow the law but have been given a loop hole. This loop hole is called judicial discretion! Judicial Discretion is a judge’s ability to intervene with his own personal believe.
That combined with the fact that judges have immunity from wrongful prosecution in South Carolina pretty much gives them a “get out of jail free card” on just about anything they do in an official capacity. The Post and Courier printed an article on this very fact. That within the last 10 years no judge has ever been disciplined for any wrong doing within the state. This seriously brings South Carolina’s Judicial System into question.
Many feel that the system in place for electing judges needs to be changed and that the immunity many judges have needs to be removed. The arm of the judiciary that is responsible for investigating complaints against lawyers and judges has also come under many complaints from private individuals and attorneys.
Complainant names are allegedly kept from the party being complained about, but in many instances, we have discovered are not. Judges are made aware through word of mouth of who complained. And the complainant is once again thrown to the wolfs and simply sent a letter that either the complaint is not within their area or that no wrong doing has been discovered.
Why has this system remained in place for so long? Considering that the majority of legislators at the State House are practicing attorneys, it is not a surprise. It is hoped by many South Carolinians that with the leaving of several legislators this term, a new wind will blow in the State House with the true interests of the people. One attorney even stated that this is why it is so important for the people to educate themselves on not only the laws but on the conduct and rules that govern the judicial system.