Meet the first woman nominated to become SC's U.S. attorney
Sherri Lydon, a Columbia criminal defense attorney and former state and federal prosecutor, has been nominated to become U.S. attorney for South Carolina by President Donald Trump.
If approved by the U.S. Senate, Lydon, 56, would be the first woman nominated by a president to be the state’s top federal prosecutor. Beth Drake, a veteran assistant U.S. attorney, currently holds the position. However, she was appointed by the federal judges in South Carolina.
The U.S. attorney is the chief federal law enforcement officer in South Carolina, overseeing all criminal prosecutions and civil actions by federal agencies, including the IRS, FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
If confirmed, Lydon’s first duties will include getting a briefing on the ongoing FBI investigation into Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson's questionable spending. She also will be involved in the federal grand jury probe into the V.C. Summer nuclear debacle, one of the state’s highest-profile criminal investigations in years.
Prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office currently are working with the FBI, the State Law Enforcement Division and a federal grand jury that is investigating the failed $9 billion, decadelong effort by investor-owned SCANA, based in Cayce, and the state-owned Santee Cooper utility to build two nuclear reactors in Fairfield County.
Lydon also can add her photograph to the more than a dozen pictures of previous U.S. attorneys — all men — who have held the office. Those photos — including of Lydon's father-in-law, the late Tom Lydon, who was U.S. attorney from 1976 to 1980 — line the main hallway at the U.S attorney's office.
Charleston attorney Bart Daniel, the former U.S. attorney who hired Lydon as an assistant prosecutor in the 1990s, called Lydon's nomination "a significant milestone," not only because she is the first woman appointed by a president but also because "no previous nominee has been as well prepared or qualified as Sherri."
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, South Carolina's only elected female state prosecutor, was Lydon's clerk in the U.S. attorney's office in the 1990s. She called Lydon a role model for other women. "Besides showing us that there was 'room at the top' for anyone who worked hard, she also showed us that we could be successful and be ourselves at the same time. Her courtroom skills rival any litigator I have ever seen."
Lydon had the backing of South Carolina’s two U.S. senators — Republicans Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott — and GOP Gov. Henry McMaster. President Trump's nomination of a U.S. attorney was preceded by months of behind-the-scenes jockeying by politicians lobbying the new administration for their favorite candidate, including state Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston, and S.C. Department of Corrections director Bryan Stirling.
As a federal prosecutor, Lydon tried cases connected to the Lost Trust public corruption probe of the S.C. Legislature in the 1990s. Later, she was chief prosecutor for the state grand jury when McMaster was attorney general, leading the prosecution of the massive Homegold-Carolina Investors securities fraud scheme. More recently, as a defense attorney, Lydon has represented a number of high-profile clients, including former Lexington County Sheriff James Metts.
A 1983 graduate of Clemson University, Lydon graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1987.
She was on the board of the S.C. Ethics Commission from 2014 until earlier this year, a post she was appointed to by former Gov. Nikki Haley.
Columbia defense attorney Debbie Barbier, a former assistant U.S. attorney, has worked with and against Lydon in legal cases. "Sherri has unique qualities of temperament, fairness, intellectual capacity and devotion to public service."
Technically, Drake has been the state's first female U.S. attorney, running the S.C. office for nearly two years. However, her appointment was by a panel of U.S. district judges from South Carolina and the U.S. Justice Department, not the president. Lydon would be the first woman nominated by a president to be the state's U.S. attorney.
Of Lydon, Drake said, "She is a terrific attorney and a really good person. We're excited to welcome her back to the office, this time as the U.S. attorney."