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Senator Luke Rankin
Senate Judiciary Chairman Luke Rankin

Does S.C. Need Judicial Reform? How S.C. picks its Judges

The Judicial Merit Selection Commission continues to meet this week to confirm S.C. Judges and Family Court Judges for the state of S.C.

Questions and concerns were raised by two residents at Tuesday’s hearings.

IS THE SYSTEM FAIR?

SHOULD OUR JUDGES BE PICKED BY THE JUDICIARY OR BE ELECTED BY THE PUBLIC AT LARGE?

Under state law, six of the JMSC’s 10 members must be lawmakers. Five members are appointed by House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington; three by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Luke Rankin, R-Horry; and two by Senate president Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee.

Besides Smith, the other lawmakers on the screening panel include Reps. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, and Chris Murphy, R-Dorchester; and Sens. Rankin, who is the commission’s vice-chairman; Ronnie Sabb, D-Williamsburg; and Tom Young, R-Aiken.

All six legislative JMSC members are lawyers, as are three of the four other panel members. There are at least 50 attorneys in the 170-member Legislature.

The screening panel by law has to consider nine criteria in deciding whether to qualify and nominate candidates: constitutional qualifications, ethical fitness, professional and academic ability, character, reputation, physical health, mental stability, experience and judicial temperament.

Only two states, South Carolina and Virginia, allow the legislature to pick state judges.

MyrtleBeachSC news interviewed Sandy Glenn-Guion after the hearings yesterday. “I absolutely do not [like the process of Senators and Representatives choosing judges]. Those are all attorneys that are working within our community. It’s just the beginning of corruption. The people should be able to vote who the judges are going to be,” said Glenn-Guion. …”these people are allowing unqualified people to sit on the bench,” Glenn-Guion added.

Glenn-Guion’s husband died of a stress heart attack after having his 3 children removed by Family Court Judge Tarita A. Dunbar in a 15 minute court decision. Glenn-Guion described Dunbar’s courtroom as “a circus” when she testified in yesterday’s hearing. Dunbar is up for re-appointment before the commission.

Lindsay Sellers with her children

Also testifying under oath was former Myrtle Beach resident Lindsay Sellers.

In a 40 minute back and forth with the commission, Sellers explained that her lawyer was disqualified to represent her just 3 weeks prior to her trial date. Sellers immediately filed for a motion to continue [a motion to have the trial date delayed while she looked for another attorney].

Judge Alex Kinlaw, Jr disqualified Sellers’ lawyer because the lawyer heard statements from Sellers’ child. Hearing those statements made the lawyer a court witness. The conflict of being both a court witness and Sellers’ lawyer disqualified the lawyer.

Mrs. Sellers filed a continuance request with Judge Alex Kinlaw, Jr., but the matter sat on his desk for weeks not addressed.

At her trial, Family Court Judge Tarita A. Dunbar informed Ms. Sellers that the continuance would not be issued. Ms. Sellers had no other option but to represent herself pro-se, as she had not heard a response from the court during the previous 3 week pre-trial period.

The matter was tried in Family Court. Had the case been tried in criminal court, example: had Ms. Sellers stabbed a man in the chest with a knife in the parking lot of a local Cook Out, the court would have appointed her a “court appointed” attorney.

RELATED: REP. RUTHERFORD DEFENDS CLIENT FOR MURDER AT COOK OUT IN FRONT OF JUDGE HE HELPED APPOINT

In the state of S.C. criminals are guaranteed representation. Ms. Sellers sworn testimony can be heard below.

Lindsay Sellers speaks at S.C. Senator Scott Talley’s hearings on the need to have S.C. judges elected by the public at large.

According to Balletopedia:

Methods of judicial selection vary substantially across the United States.  Though each state has a unique set of guidelines governing how they fill their state and local judiciaries, there are five main methods:

  • Partisan elections: Judges are elected by the people, and candidates are listed on the ballot alongside a label designating political party affiliation.
  • Nonpartisan elections: Judges are elected by the people, and candidates are listed on the ballot without a label designating party affiliation.
  • Legislative elections: Judges are selected by the state legislature. *Virginia, S.C.
  • Gubernatorial appointment: Judges are appointed by the governor. In some cases, approval from the legislative body is required.
  • Assisted appointment, also known as merit selection or the Missouri Plan: A nominating commission reviews the qualifications of judicial candidates and submits a list of names to the governor, who appoints a judge from the list. After serving an initial term, the judge must be confirmed by the people in a yes-no retention election to remain on the court.[2]

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About David Hucks

Born in 1961, David is a 12th generation descendant of the area we now call Myrtle Beach, S.C. David attended Coastal Carolina University and like most of his family, has never left the area. David is the lead journalist at MyrtleBeachSC.com

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