Standoff at the Statehouse over Judicial Elections

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Though judicial elections in South Carolina often look more like a coronation than an election, this year is proving to be much more interesting. In a pledge introduced months ago by Senator Wes Climer, a bipartisan group of senators, including Senator Dick Harpootlian, has stood firm in rejecting pressure from the House leadership that claims voting for judicial appointments should take priority over reforming the selection process.

The President of the Senate, business owner Senator Thomas Alexander, did not pull punches Wednesday when addressing House Speaker/lawyer-legislator, and former chair of the Judicial Merit Selection Commission (JMSC) Murrell Smith. In rejecting the Speaker’s push to delay judicial reform, Senator Alexander quipped to Speaker Smith that the Senate “works with you, but we do not work for you.”

Mean Tweets by the Uni-Party Faithful

Doomsday type threats from the reigning GOP supermajority drew some similarly sharp rebuttals from the South Carolina Freedom Caucus (SCFC).

In these audio recordings captured by parent and candidate for House Seat #15, Carlton Walker and his family law attorney, lawyer-legislator Representative Gil Gatch, discuss Walker’s custody case. Among other adjectives, Gatch describes Walker’s family court case as “absolutely insane,” “unfathomable,” and “inconceivable.”

According to a former client, Gatch DOES know about problematic judges – and there are receipts.

At the center of Gatch’s criticism is Judge Daniel Martin, a family court judge currently vying for position as a circuit court judge in the 9th Judicial Circuit. As heard in this audio, Gatch is acutely aware of the problem in the SC courts, but yet he chooses to insult the SCFC who has been steadfast in their quest to reform it?

“Such a violation of your human rights as an American to be accused of something and not be allowed to at least survey the basis of the argument…
it is unbelievable…”
Representative Gil Gatch on Judge Daniel Martin’s
Presiding Over a Contested Custody Case
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Judgeships are Highly Coveted and Hotly Contested

In addition to the respect of the robe, generous holidays, flexible scheduling, autonomy of the position, and no billable hours, judges in South Carolina are extraordinarily well compensated. According to the National Center for State Courts, when adjusted for the cost-of-living index, our state’s salaries for judges are among the top 5 in the country.

Another especially attractive part of SC judgeships is the generous retirement made possible with the full support of the former Ways and Means Committee Chairman, Representative Murrell Smith. Seeking “to do something to improve the pool of applicants,” a 36% pay raise was achieved for judges in 2019; with this increase, a judge’s pension equates to roughly 7x the average state pension.

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