A S.C. judge withdrew her name from consideration for re-election Tuesday after state lawmakers questioned whether her temperament made her unfit for the bench.
Citing a survey from more than 500 attorneys, state Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, said only 40 percent thought 9th Circuit Court Judge Kristi Lea Harrington was well-qualified for the bench — the lowest of all sitting judges.
After a sometimes tense, off-and-on four-hour hearing, Harrington gave lawmakers a written request to remove her name from a list of judges seeking re-election.
“I just wanted to thank you for the opportunity to serve the state of South Carolina,” said Harrington, whose term ends June 30.
With supporters behind her, Harrington was at the crosshairs of an all-male panel of lawmakers deciding Tuesday whether to remove the nine-year Lowcountry judge’s name from consideration for re-election.
State Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, said at least 13 percent of the 544 attorneys surveyed anonymously said Harrington could be insecure, arrogant, rude and condescending, has a short fuse and is a poor candidate for re-election.
Harrington was 38 years old when she became a judge and, oftentimes, confused for a law clerk. When first on the bench, Harrington acknowledged she could be heavy handed and somewhat unapproachable, running a strict courtroom. But that has changed, she said.
“Every one in this room would agree I work very hard,” Harrington said, her voice audibly shaking. “Sometimes, I lose focus on how hard I make everyone else work for me.”
Last month, Harrington told the legislators that not one attorney had told her they felt disrespected by her in her courtroom.
One attorney countered that claim Tuesday.
Charleston attorney James Smiley said he spoke to Harrington in her chambers before a plea hearing in late June about what he perceived as a tone of disrespect directed at him in front of other attorneys and his clients. He said Harrington asked him three times, “Mr. Smiley are you ready” in a “school teacher-like tone.”
However, Smiley added he has a friendly professional relationship with Harrington, having appeared in front of her countless times.
“Judge Harrington always means well,” Smiley said.
“Sometimes ... she’s a taskmaster” but not in a bad way, he added. “She thinks the court should be respected.”