Politics & Government

Beatty calls becoming top S.C. judge “my improbable journey”

Donald Beatty is sworn in as the second African-American to be chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court Friday. He succeeds Costa Pleicones, right, who retired after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 72. Beatty’s wife Angela is in the center.
Donald Beatty is sworn in as the second African-American to be chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court Friday. He succeeds Costa Pleicones, right, who retired after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 72. Beatty’s wife Angela is in the center. mwalsh@thestate.com

New state Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Beatty on Friday called his path from a lad who peeked into legal proceedings to the second African-American in the post since the mid-1800s “my improbable journey.”

Beatty officially took charge of overseeing South Carolina’s judiciary at an investiture ceremony he initially wanted to skip, but decided the event was important to have because “it’s about this institution.”

He pledged to continue modernizing court operations statewide with digital technology and other innovations. But, he said, the courts need more financial help from lawmakers.

Beatty wants the General Assembly to guarantee courts a fixed share of annual state revenues, a step he said would assure stability in judicial operations.

He acknowledged some of his ideas will run into opposition.

“Some of my proposals will be met with resistance,” he said. “It’s time for all of us to realize justice is not free.”

Beatty, 65, was elected to the top state judicial post last spring by the Legislature of which he is a former member. Herepresented parts of Spartanburg County from 1991-95 before becoming a circuit judge and rising through the judicial ranks.

He saluted Ernest Finney, the first African-American chief justice since Reconstruction in the 19th century, who “took me under his wing” while a young lawyer. Finney attended Friday’s ceremony.

Beatty also thanked his immediate chief justice predecessors Costa Pleicones and Jean Toal for helping prepare him for the new role.

Being chief justice will require a more public persona for Beatty, who said “I tend to shun the limelight.”

But two lawmakers who are longtime friends say he is up to the challenge.

Beatty is “a man of perseverance, a man of commitment,” Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, said.

“You have what it takes to do this job,” she told him during the event.

State Sen. Gerald Malloy, also present, described Beatty as a quiet trailblazer who will be a “light of hope” in settling legal disputes.

“He hears all voices of those who cannot speak,” the Darlington Democrat said.

Beatty became chief justice Jan. 1 for a term running seven years. Judges must retire at the end of the year in which they reach 72.

So far, he said,“I don’t have much to report” after a few days on the job.

His ascension to chief justice continued the tradition of the senior-most associate justice on the court being elevated to the top post.

Tim Flach: 803-771-8483

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