Politics & Government

Greenville's Ariail won't seek re-election

Thirteenth Circuit Solicitor Bob Ariail of Greenville says he will leave office next year to return to private practice and possibly join his son.

The 63-year-old chief prosecutor of Greenville and Pickens counties said the decision not to seek a fourth term after 14 years has been something he has mulled for some time and wasn't related to any case or event.

"I've always wanted to return to private practice where I came from," Ariail told The Greenville News. "My son is out there doing private practice, and I don't want to start that at age 68. I would also like to have one or two days of the week in which I am not totally under the microscope."

Officials said the name mentioned most to replace Ariail is outgoing U.S. Attorney Walt Wilkins of Greenville.

Sen. David Thomas, a Fountain Inn Republican, said Ariail's announcement "is a Walt Wilkins walk-in, that's what I keep hearing."

Ariail said Wilkins "is the only person I have heard" to replace him.

But Wilkins said he couldn't comment on his plans. He said until he leaves office, he is prohibited by rules of the U.S. Justice Department from discussing his political future.

Former Gov. David Beasley appointed Ariail, who worked first as an assistant solicitor, as the area's chief prosecutor in April 1997. He was elected without opposition in 1998 and re-elected without opposition in 2002 and 2006. Ariail said his tenure is the longest of any Greenville prosecutor.

"Bob has done a terrific job for the 13th Judicial Circuit throughout his career," said Sen. Larry Martin of Pickens. "He's handled some difficult cases, and there have been some folks that have not always been happy with him for any number of reasons. But I think he always did what he thought was best."

Greenville County Sheriff Steve Loftis said he's known Ariail for 20 years and described him as "dedicated and a very hard worker."

"He's served his county well," he said.

As solicitor, Ariail manages an office of 120 people, is responsible for handling 15,000 or more cases each year and a budget of about $7 million.

"I'm getting to the age where we probably need somebody else to take a look at it," Ariail said. "We've done a lot of good, but a new set of eyes is always a good thing in my view. I just think it's time to let somebody else take a look at it."

He and defense lawyer Jim Bannister of Greenville said his greatest accomplishment has been increasing the efficiency of the way cases are handled in the court system.

"He has put into place a pretty sophisticated case management system," Bannister said. "It's probably the most efficient system we have in the state."

Ariail said he is most proud of the "efficiency and organization with which we now operate."

"With judges and the defense bar, acting as a team, we have effectively moved the docket in an organized fashion," he said. "I think creating that environment was probably my biggest accomplishment."

Ariail said his retirement also will allow him to spend more time with his family, which includes two children and three grandchildren.

"I've had a wonderful time," he said. "This is probably one of funnest jobs you can have."