Appreciation: Scott in forefront of modern court system

03/08/2013 8:14 PM

03/09/2013 12:18 PM

Barbara Scott spent her professional life working to improve the Richland County court system.

As a legal secretary, she established a local organization pushing for professional standards for the women working alongside lawyers.

After almost 30 years of working for one of the state’s great criminal trial lawyers, Scott embarked on a second career. She ran for clerk of court at a time when few women would have.

Scott, who died this week, will be remembered at a memorial service at 4 p.m. Monday at Dunbar Funeral Home’s Devine Street Chapel, followed at 5:30 p.m. by a celebration at the Big Apple, 1000 Hampton St.

“She did not want us to mourn her. She wanted to celebrate her life,” said one of four daughters, Melodie Scott Leach. “She said, ‘I want a party,’ so that’s what we’re doing.”

Scott had suffered two strokes and two falls in the past 11/2 years. She was 75 and died at her Heathwood home, under hospice care. Her family was beside her.

In 1984, when Scott became clerk of court, the first woman judge had just been seated in Richland County. Scott was an anomoly then, too.

While she never attended law school, she knew the law — and human nature — so she was an easy participant in the legal community that gathered at the Richland County Judicial Center.

“It was her courthouse,” said Probate Judge Amy McCulloch, who met the clerk of court as an inexperienced prosecutor eager to hear Scott’s critique of her trial performances.

“She learned how to be a powerful woman in a man’s world,” McCulloch said.

Criminal defense lawyer Jack Swerling said Scott “had no filters” but also could speak volumes at the end of a trial with a smile or a nod.

“She’d tell you when you were doing something wrong,” Swerling said, “but she’d also tell you when she thought you were doing something right.”

She was the clerk of court from 1984 to 2008, managing the succession of trials in various courtrooms, arranging for a jury pool — and, in the end, converting from handwritten to computer records.

“When people use the term ‘old school,’ that was Ms. Scott,” said Bailey Preacher, who does real-estate title research.

“She was just one of those Southern characters that the South is losing. There are no more Barbara Scotts.”

The clerk even smoked in her courthouse office long after federal laws prohibited it, Preacher said.

Leach said her mother’s backyard was the family gathering spot for swimming, listening to music and playing cards.

“She loved poker,” Leach said. “She taught us all to play poker, and we’ve all taught our kids to play poker.”

Fall weekends were consumed by Gamecock football on Saturdays; she and her husband, Paul Pickens, were part of a group called the Wayward Ones who traveled to out-of-town games together in the 1970s and ’80s. Sundays, she caught the Washington Redskins.

“She loved the advent of cable TV because she could see all the games,” Leach said.

McCulloch said Scott guided a generation of young attorneys through the courtesies of the courthouse, making sure they didn’t keep judges or jurors waiting. She made sure they understood that everyone had a role to play in making the judicial system work smoothly and that lawyers were not any more important than the other players.

Chief Justice Jean Toal called Scott “a trailblazer” in efforts to modernize the court system and set professional standards among administrative personnel.

When Scott lost a re-election bid in 2008, she turned right around and ran for a seat on the Richland 1 school board, where she previously had served, 1974-82.

“She was not going to sit idle,” said Swerling, her friend and political supporter, “so she looked around and decided what was the next thing she could do to be productive.”

She was re-elected to the school board in November.

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