Politics & Government

Obama taps Nettles for U.S. attorney

President Barack Obama on Tuesday tapped Columbia defense attorney Bill Nettles to be South Carolina's next U.S. attorney.

"William Nettles' legal career has been distinguished and impressive," Obama said in a news release announcing the nomination. "I am confident that ... he will be relentless in his pursuit of justice and serve the people of South Carolina with distinction."

The White House also announced the choice of Circuit Judge Michelle Childs and attorney Richard Gergel, both of Columbia, to fill seats on the federal bench in South Carolina.

Obama also named Williamsburg County Sheriff Kelvin Washington as the state's next U.S. marshal.

All nominations must be approved by the U.S. Senate.

Nettles would be the chief lawyer for the Department of Justice in South Carolina. He would answer to the U.S. attorney general.

He started his legal career as an attorney in the Richland County public defender's office before going into private practice in 1997. He is a graduate of The Citadel and the Widener School of Law.

Nettles now practices with his father-in-law, Alex Sanders, who is a former chief judge of the S.C. Court of Appeals, a Charleston School of Law founder and a one-time Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. Working from Columbia, he primarily handles criminal defense and death penalty cases.

Nettles, 48, said, "I am humbled and honored to be nominated by President Barack Obama ... and I am excited about the possibility of being confirmed by the Senate."

Nettles served as head of Obama's legal staff for South Carolina during the state's 2008 Democratic presidential primary. In that role, he supervised some 250 lawyers, many from out of state, who came to South Carolina to take legal action against election irregularities, should any arise. There were no major legal issues during that primary.

Nettles replaces Walt Wilkins of Greenville, who has served as South Carolina's U.S. attorney since mid-2008. Wilkins, appointed by former President George W. Bush, has said his last day in office will be Jan. 10. His father, William "Billy" Wilkins, stepped down in 2007 as chief judge of the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va.

Gergel, 55, said he is "deeply honored" by the nomination.

He is a senior partner with Gergel, Nickles and Solomon in Columbia, specializing in personal injury litigation, employment discrimination matters and government litigation since 1983. Prior to that, he worked as an attorney with Medlock and Davis, handling employment cases in state and federal court and in administrative proceedings.

Gergel was the first attorney in recent years to persuade the S.C. Supreme Court to reverse one of its own rulings, in this case, in a state retirement suit.

Gergel has served as president of the Columbia Hebrew Benevolent Society and the Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina. He has been listed in South Carolina Super Lawyers and in 2001 received the Jonathan Jasper Wright Award from the USC Black Law Students Association. Gergel received bachelor's and law degrees from Duke University. His wife, Belinda, represents District 3 on Columbia City Council.

Childs, 43, said she is "very excited and extremely honored. ... I look forward to the rest of the process and going forward with the nomination."

Childs is the chief administrative judge for the state's circuit court, which handles criminal and civil cases. She also has been an acting justice for the S.C. Supreme Court.

Prior to taking the bench in 2006, Childs was on the S.C. Workers' Compensation Commission from 2002 to 2006 and was deputy director of the division of labor for the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation from 2000 to 2002. She also has been in private practice.

Childs received a bachelor's degree from the University of South Florida and master's and law degrees from USC.

Washington, of Williamsburg County, wasn't immediately available for comment. He replaces former longtime Greenville County Sheriff Johnny Mack Brown. Obama said Washington "has displayed courage and persistence in the pursuit of justice."

Washington has been with the Williamsburg County Sheriff's Office since 1993. He has been an adjunct professor of criminal justice at Charleston Southern University since 2008. He also has served as an adjunct professor at Horry-Georgetown Technical College since 2007.

Washington has a bachelor's degree from American Intercontinental University and a master's from Troy University. He began his law enforcement career with the Florence Police Department as a patrolman and investigator in 1990.

The appointments were applauded by U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-Columbia, and S.C. Senate Democratic Leader John C. Land III of Manning.

"I know each of the nominees and was honored to join with my colleague John Spratt in recommending them to the president for consideration," Clyburn said. Their selections, he said, reflect President Obama's "commitment to make appointments that reflect the diversity of this country.

"I know that if confirmed by the Senate, each of these outstanding individuals will serve South Carolina and our nation with dignity and dedication."

Land noted Nettles' appointment to be South Carolina's next U.S. attorney: "Bill Nettles is a great legal mind and a tenacious fighter for justice. I am thrilled that our state stands to gain Mr. Nettles as its chief federal prosecutor. Bill is a bulldog, and I'm proud to know that he will be there fighting for the citizens of South Carolina."