COLUMBIA, SC — Attack lawyers and they might fight back.
The S.C. Bar has launched a website sclawyerfacts.org to combat "recent political campaign ads (that) have waged an attack against the legal profession."
The Republican Governors Association started airing television ads over the weekend criticizing Democratic gubernatorial challenger Vincent Sheheen for representing defendants charged with sexual abuse and criminal-domestic violence.
"The uncivil, misleading political rhetoric clouds the opportunity for honest debate on substantive issues important to our state," sclawyerfacts.org says.
The Bar site does not name Sheheen, a Camden attorney, but wants to refute "misinformation ... about the legal profession and the service provided by lawyers to the citizens of South Carolina." The professional association is non-partisan, S.C. Bar President Alice Paylor said in an interview.
S.C. Republican Party chairman Matt Moore held a news conference this month questioning Sheheen's judgment in representing violent criminals.
"Vincent Sheheen could have stood with abuse victims and exploited children, but instead he took a paycheck to defend dangerous criminals," Moore said Tuesday
Added RGA spokesman Jon Thompson, "This ad is not about a right to a defense. It's about Vincent Sheheen's deliberate choice to protect and work to set free violent criminals who abused women and children."
The Bar site says attorneys who represent criminal defendants can serve in elected office: "Lawyers legal education provides a strong background for the task of helping our legislature craft laws."
Paylor also wrote a message on her group's website saying, "When you encounter smear tactics against lawyers in your community, I encourage you to help the Bar fight back. Lawyers promote good government and economic growth."
In an interview, Paylor said the Bar had the site ready in case of a political attack on the profession. The site is not for defending a specific candidate but "to protect lawyers in general," she said. "We were hoping we were not going to need it."
Sheheen has received a number of campaign contributions from attorneys in his November re-match with Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, including $35,000 in recent months from political-action committees for the state trial lawyers trade group.