After a longtime S.C. judge withdrew from re-election earlier this month, legislators want reinforced rules that bar judicial candidates from talking to lawmakers during the screening process.
Ninth Circuit Court Judge Kristi Harrington told the bipartisan Judicial Merit Selection Commission that she never asked legislators for their support for her candidacy during the screening process. Doing so would have violated state rules.
However, members of the Merit Selection Commission on Wednesday asked staff to publish the rules that spell out when a judicial candidate may speak to a lawmaker and what the consequences are if the rules are violated. The rules already are spelled out in state law.
South Carolina is one of two states where legislators select judges.
It is not clear whether Harrington’s candidacy was the reason lawmakers acted.
Facing criticism of her judicial behavior, Harrington withdrew earlier this month from consideration for re-election.
Harrington’s withdrawal drew strong reaction from some attorneys, who criticized her demeanor on the bench, as well as supporters, including former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley. “Thank you, Judge Harrington for always doing what is right for the people of S.C.,” Haley tweeted afterward.
State law bars judicial candidates from seeking pledges of support from legislators until the Merit Selection Commission decides whether a candidate is qualified. State law also bars a judicial candidate from contacting a legislator concerning the screening process.
The same law also bars a legislator from talking to a judicial candidate during the screening process.
Violators could face a misdemeanor charge and, if convicted, a $1,000 fine or no more than 90 days in jail.
Meanwhile, three judicial candidates for separate races were not chosen earlier this month by the Judicial Merit Selection Commission to move forward:
Candidates who did not move forward:
▪ Former state Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Berkeley, who sought a highly contested at-large judgeship. Horne did not seek re-election last year to run unsuccessfully against U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Charleston. Horne gained recognition in 2015 after she emotionally urged her colleagues to vote to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds after the slaying of nine black churchgoers.
▪ Leah Moody of Rock Hill, the University of South Carolina’s only African-American trustee. Moody is the daughter of late state Rep. Bessie Moody-Lawrence, who was in the House from 1993 to 2007.
▪ Attorney Amy Cofield, who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for state education superintendent. Cofield is the sister of Lexington attorney Tommy Cofield, who Haley appointed to USC’s board of trustees to replace Lake City financier Darla Moore.
Jennifer McCoy, the wife of state Rep. Peter McCoy, was chosen to move forward for an at-large judgeship. McCoy, R-Charleston, told The Post and Courier he had “absolutely nothing to do with the race.”