Crime & Courts

Justice Pleicones will face Toal in State Supreme Court chief justice race

State Supreme Court Associate Justice Costa Pleicones has announced his intention to run against current Chief Justice Jean Toal for the top spot on the powerful five-member court.

Two members of the Richland County Legislative Delegation said they received letters last week from Toal and Pleicones announcing their runs in next year’s chief justice race. It’s a 10-year term.

In South Carolina, state judges and justices are elected not by popular election, as in many states, but by the 170-member General Assembly.

“I got a letter last week, and it caught me by surprise,” said Rep. Joe Neal, D-Richland. “I had assumed there would be just one person running.”

Rep. Jimmy Bales, D-Richland, also said he had gotten election letters from the two justices.

“Someone said there may be another person interested — it could be a pretty good race,” Bales said. “Everybody thought Jean was going to retire, but she changed her mind.”

Neal, who has served 20 years in the House, said he couldn’t remember the last time there was an open race for the chief justice’s spot. Usually, elections are settled by quiet agreements between justices on succession, as well as lobbying behind the scenes to get enough votes from lawmakers so there doesn’t have to be an election.

Toal, 69, previously had made her intentions known to seek re-election to the court. But Pleicones, while talked about as a possible candidate, had not announced officially what he intended to do.

Pleicones has served on the Supreme Court since 2000, when he was elected to fill then-Associate Justice Toal’s unexpired term. At that time, Toal became chief justice and has served ever since.

Neal and Bales said they haven’t yet decided who they’ll vote for.

“It will be interesting to watch,” Bales said.