With Polarizing Views and his Spouse’s Provocative Art, is James Smith “Judge Material”?

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Although he has not practiced law for much of the past five years, it may be his wife’s career that ultimately casts more red flags than James Smith‘s lack of recent work experience. Artist Kirkland Smith is most well known for her work with contemporary assemblages, but it is her provocative art featuring what may be viewed as the objectification of women that could be problematic for her spouse’s pursuit of a judgeship.

If ultimately selected by the legislature for the open Circuit Court seat, Smith would routinely preside over criminal matters of a sexual nature that affect citizens of Richland and Kershaw Counties. Effectively vetting those potential conflicts of interests now could alleviate troublesome disqualifications later.

The Code of Judicial Conduct (Rule 501) governs the behavior of judges by providing a framework for judges to effectively discharge their duties while avoiding behavior that could be interpreted as prejudicial or bias. Some examples of judges’ conduct described within Rule 501 that may be pertinent to Smith’s candidacy stipulate that a judge:

  • is not influenced by partisan interests.
  • avoids business dealings that could be viewed as compromising the prestige of the office or exploitive of the judicial position; family members of a judge are encouraged to conduct themselves similarly.
  • should ensure that extra-judicial activities are conducted in a manner that would not cast reasonable doubt on his or her capacity to act impartially as a judge.

A former artists’ model who reviewed Kirkland Smith’s website provided the following statement:

“I have great appreciation for art in all its forms and mediums, valuing the perspective of professional artists. However, as a survivor of sexual assault, I find myself feeling disquieted by explicit depictions of women and men through full frontal paintings, photographs, and images due to their overtly sexual character. Despite holding artists in high regard, I cannot help but express apprehension regarding Smith’s potential viewpoints and biases towards victims of sexual abuse, considering his spouse’s inclination towards creating highly sexualized artworks featuring women.”

One of Mr. Smith’s selected cases shared with the Judicial Merit Selection Commission (JMSC) may also hint at what could be construed as callousness toward certain demographics. As described on page 104 of the JMSC’s report of candidate qualifications, when he was defending a staff sergeant, Mr. Smith cited the “series of failed witnesses.” Specifically, Mr. Smith was referencing the apprehension, inability, and/or unwillingness of alleged sexual assault victims to testify against the accused; this ultimately led to a “very favorable verdict” for Smith’s client who had been charged with assaulting five individuals.

Candidate Smith is also not shy about his personally held beliefs on social media. Whereas most judges and judicial candidates tend to have a very small digital footprint, Mr. Smith’s Twitter account praises his wife’s work: “[her] incredible art” and the “powerful message it delivers.” Previously endorsed by Planned Parenthood, his support to such divisive topics as global warming is hardly the reserved look that is expected for one of the state’s coveted judicial positions.

Because the legislature exclusively decides on judgeships in South Carolina, residents can voice support or concern for individual candidates through their elected representatives.

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