Politics & Government

SC’s first female US attorney in line for promotion to federal judge post under Trump

U.S. Attorney for South Carolina Sherri Lydon is the expected nominee for one of two open federal District Court judge’s posts in South Carolina, according to eight sources with knowledge of the process.

Meanwhile, two of her top deputies are behind-the-scenes contenders for South Carolina’s second vacant federal judge position, The State has learned.

Those candidates are 46-year-old Greenville resident Lance Crick — Lydon’s top deputy who holds the post of first assistant U.S. attorney — and DeWayne Pearson, 41, an assistant U.S. attorney who mostly prosecutes white collar crimes.

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Crick has been with the U.S. Attorney’s Office since 2001; Pearson, since 2010. Lydon, Crick and Pearson all declined to comment Monday.

Federal judge positions are lifetime appointments picked by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. That process could take months. It is unclear when Lydon will be nominated.

The $210,900-a-year jobs are the most prestigious judge positions in South Carolina. District judges preside over a wide variety of criminal and civil cases.

Lydon, 57, who informed staff at field offices across the state last week that she was under consideration by President Trump for a district judge’s post, is a contender just 15 months after becoming the first woman selected by the president to be South Carolina’s U.S. Attorney.

If nominated, the Columbia resident would be expected to sail through the U.S. Senate confirmation process. Senators confirmed her to her current position last year on a voice vote, signaling there was no fight over her nomination.

Lydon has been an active and visible U.S. attorney since taking the job in May 2018. She has held press conferences with prosecutors and law enforcement agencies to announce indictments and guilty verdicts in high profile cases.

Last week, Lydon helped orchestrate a press conference in North Columbia with Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook and state and federal prosecutors to announce a joint crackdown to get violent offenders off the street.

Lydon’s office has been involved in the ongoing state and federal investigation into the collapse of the $9 billion V.C. Summer Nuclear Station expansion project in Fairfield County. Earlier this year, her office successfully prosecuted former 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson, who was sentenced to a year in federal prison for stealing public money.

A graduate of Clemson University and the University of South Carolina’s School of Law, Lydon manages an office of 140 employees, including 55 lawyers, that prosecutes crimes from public corruption to drug cases, as well as handling federal civil matters.

The office works with a range of federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, IRS, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. It has offices in Florence, Greenville, Charleston and Columbia.

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, declined to comment. Efforts to reach U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-North Charleston, for comment Monday were unsuccessful.

South Carolina’s two U.S. senators are integral to the process of nominating federal judges. The president — in this case, President Donald Trump — nominates federal judges but typically relies heavily on the recommendations of a state’s senators.

The nominations then are forwarded to the U.S. Senate, where the Senate Judiciary Committee may hold hearings to question the nominees.

South Carolina currently has eight active federal judges and six federal judges on senior status. The senior judges usually have a reduced workload.

Avery G. Wilks is The State’s senior S.C. State House and politics reporter. He was named the 2018 S.C. Journalist of the Year by the South Carolina Press Association. He grew up in Chester, S.C., and graduated from the University of South Carolina’s top-ranked Honors College in 2015.
John Monk has covered courts, crime, politics, public corruption, the environment and other issues in the Carolinas for more than 40 years. A U.S. Army veteran who covered the 1989 American invasion of Panama, Monk is a former Washington correspondent for The Charlotte Observer. He has covered numerous death penalty trials, including that of the Charleston church killer, Dylann Roof, and that of child killer Tim Jones.