Stuart Andrews Jr., a lawyer with the Columbia mega law firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, has been honored by the Appleseed Legal Justice Center for his work “improving the lives of fellow South Carolinians,” especially the low-income.
The center, a South Carolina social justice activist organization, gave Andrews its 2016 Sen. Clementa C. Pinckney Award for Justice.
Andrews, 65, was a leader in setting up Nelson Mullins’ pro bono program, which since 1989 has brought lawsuits in South Carolina seeking more funding for South Carolina public schools in rural areas, challenging the unconstutional conditions for youth in the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice and forcing improvements conditions in state prisons for mentally ill inmates, a press release said. All of these lawsuits took longer than 10 years.
“Over the years the pro bono program – bringing lawsuits for the public good and at no charge – has become real part of the firm’s culture,” Andrews said. “Hundreds of the firm’s lawyers and staff have put in literally hundreds of thousands of hours on these lawsuits and other legal matters for the lower-income people and organizations serving them.”
In 2012, while the prison inmate lawsuit was in court, Andrews testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee, telling senators that the S.C. Department of Corrections used solitary confinement as a means of managing inmate conduct, particularly inmates with mental illness.
In 2014, S.C. Circuit Judge Michael Baxley found that prison lawsuit had exposed widespread unconstitutional and life-threatening conditions existed for some 3,000 mentally ill inmates in state prisons. Baxley ordered the prison system to reform the way it treated its mentally ill.
Evidence in the case was so overwhelming that the Department of Corrections, which like other state agencies normally fights lawsuits whose resolution might cost money, worked out a settlement that included spending millions to sharply upgrade diagnosis and treatment of mentally ill inmates. The settlement was approved last month.
The award is named for longtime S.C. Appleseed supporter S.C. Sen. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was killed in the mass shooting in June 2015 in Charleston at Emanuel AME Church, where he served as senior pastor.