JUDICIAL REFORM: Attorney general, solicitors and sheriffs ask for changes in the system
COLUMBIA, SC (WOLO) — You may not think about how judges are selected here in South Carolina, but their job plays a major role in many people’s lives.
To make sure the Palmetto State has the best judges, a bipartisan group of solicitors and sheriffs are calling for a change in how they are chosen.
“We all agree that there needs to be meaningful judicial reform here in South Carolina,” said attorney general Alan Wilson.
The attorney general was joined by solicitors and sheriffs from all over the state who are asking for changes to be made with how judges are selected in South Carolina.
Currently, judges are selected through the Judicial Merit Selection Committee and voted on by the lawmakers.
“I think they’re a lot of insider deals going on with the selection of judges and we need to put an end to that,” said 1st circuit solicitor David Pascoe. “Attorney General Wilson’s idea is for the governor to make the appointments. Maybe there can be recommendations from the South Carolina bar, solicitors and sheriffs.”
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott agrees.
“Have the executive branch be a part of it. Have judges that don’t worry about giving justice out regardless of who the defense attorney or solicitor is. We need to modernize,” Lott said.
Pascoe believes modernizing the system requires new laws.
“Legislation requiring the JMSC to screen out ALL qualified candidates for a vote in the general assembly,” the solicitor said. “No more of this three-candidate limit set by members of the JMSC.”
Currently, the majority of the JMSC is made up of legislators. The attorney general and others believe this creates a conflict of interest and shows the need for a change in the process. Pascoe also wants to see that changed.
“I would like to see no legislators on the Judicial Merit Selection Committee,” Pascoe said. “None.”
“JMSC reform is the first step,” Wilson said. “There are a lot of other components to judicial reform that we can talk about in the weeks, months and years in front of us but this is a good first step.”
Another step for judicial reform involves what Sheriff Lott calls the ‘catch and release’ system. He says it leads to repeat offenders in the community.
“If they break the law and continue to break the law, they need to be held accountable. We’re not seeing that,” the sheriff said. “I think it is a big part of the system that needs to be fixed too. What we’re talking about today is not a fix-all. It’s just one part of the solution that we need to find.”
Some ideas for how judges should be appointed in the state include allowing the governor to appoint people to the position or having elections for judicial roles.