Sunday, Sept. 10, 2006
SC Statehouse Report
10, 2006 - - Of the three branches of government, the judicial
is the most overlooked. But in South Carolina, as in all of
the states and at the federal level, it is co-equal with its
While the legislative and executive branches constantly are
in the news and actively shape public opinion, the judicial
branch is more behind-the-scenes, quieter and out of the limelight.
It chugs away at its work like a dependable workhorse, compared
to the show horse of a governor's office or race horse of
A recent week of jury duty sent a reminder home of the vital
importance of the judicial branch of government. It led to
the observation that although most people groan when called
for the duty, which pays a whopping $10 a day in Charleston
County, those who serve do it with a great sense of responsibility
and integrity. They may not really want to be in the courtroom,
but they realize it's a civic duty.
That's refreshing. But what became clearer throughout the
week is that jury service is a privilege. It's one of the
fundamental ways, like voting, that everyday Americans distinguish
themselves in helping the country govern itself. Without juries,
without judges, without the judiciary, the American system
of governance just wouldn't work.
We have a tested, proven and orderly way of resolving differences
without civil strife. It's not without delay and frustration
for those involved, but what's striking about it is that it
works, time and time again. It is a fundamental characteristic
of our democracy.
As a state judge noted this week, the composition of the
judicial system is much more than judges, lawyers, plaintiffs,
defendants, jurors and court employees. It has evolved into
a collaborative partnership. While today's judges referee
proceedings and still sit on lofty benches, they seem much
more process-oriented to ensure the system works as smoothly
as possible. Jurors, for example, are told they too are judges
and without them, the system couldn't work.
Over the last 30 years, South Carolina's judicial system
has undergone a quiet transformation. It's less clubby and
more professional. Part of the reason, we're told, is because
the state moved to a formal judicial screening system about
30 years ago that has helped to weed out people who might
not make the best judges.
While this screening process remains imperfect, political
and can be improved, it has resulted in a more diverse judiciary
with women comprising 17 percent of state judges and African-Americans
making up 6 percent of the judiciary. (As a comparison, 27
percent of lawyers are women; 5 percent of lawyers are black.)
Another change from about 30 years ago that modernized the
state judiciary was the implementation of a special family
court system. These days, there's call for more reform of
the system, but the fact that family cases are separated and
specialized makes South Carolina's overall system work better.
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"By any yardstick, my brothers and sisters who wear
the robe and all who work for the courts of South Carolina
are the finest in America," Chief Justice Jean Toal told
lawmakers in March during an annual State of the Judiciary
In South Carolina, the judicial branch is allocated less
than 1 percent of the state's $5.6 billion budget to do its
work as part of our check-and-balance structure of government.
Through the years, South Carolina's court system has become
more efficient and a model to other states through its use
of Internet technology to manage an overburdened caseload.
It has more judicial training. It offers more alternatives
to court to resolve differences.
Yes, challenges remain, such as our state's judges having
the highest trial caseload in the country. Sentencing needs
to be reviewed to develop reasonable measures to lower costs
but ensure violent prisoners stay in jail. More streamlining
may help ease court burdens. And added dispute resolution
alternatives may help improve things.
But what is clearest after a week of jury duty is the system
works. And it's more than a duty - - it's a privilege to be
able to serve in a system that civilly seeks to do what's
right through common sense and an orderly process.
Send your comments to Andy Brack at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His book of commentary, Bugging
the Palmettos, is available for
here for more.
to the club
Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:
9/5: SC State is
Publisher's note: While we got a
half dozen letters of thanks last week for Andy Brack's
column on S.C. State's national recognition, we've received
13 so far this week. In the interest of space, we provide
two samples, but many thanks to everyone for their kind
To the editor:
After reading the commentary,
I want to express my most sincere appreciation for recognizing
a South Carolina gem that is often overlooked, misrepresented
and ignored, except when issues arise promoting opportunities
for negativity and speculation.
South Carolina State alumnus have been aware and proud of
the accolades that are mentioned in this report and in your
commentary. We know our Alma mater has prepared us to compete
and to out perform our colleagues from other more well - known
and "prestigious" institutions; yet, we are humble,
"loyal sons and daughters".
-- Robertretta Brown Patterson, Columbus, Ohio
Newspapers missed story
To the editor:
It's amazing how The State paper missed putting this
in big print and in a prominent place in the paper. If it
had been USC or Clemson it would have been on the front page
in big bold colored letters.
As an alumnus of SCSU, I am grateful that you saw fit to
put this in your publication. This is truly something positive
for the state of South Carolina. Thank you for publishing
this information. It is one of those "Unknown Facts."
--Jannette Henry-Davenport, Fairfield County, SC
Ahead on SC State
A look at how you often learn first about things in the full,
paid version of SC Statehouse Report. To subscribe,
"It's not everyday you learn your
school is ranked one of the top in the nation. But that's
just what happened recently for Dr.
Andrew Hugine, president of S.C. State University
in Orangeburg. ... What he's happy about is a new guide
to the nation's universities by Washington
Monthly magazine that rates S.C. State as its
ninth best university, an accolade that puts it in the
same league as M.I.T., Stanford and Cornell."
From the Orangeburg
Times and Democrat, 9/7/06
"South Carolina State University
is ninth among national universities in this years
Washington Monthly college rankings....The magazine
said its rankings consider how well universities foster
scientific and humanistic research, promote an ethic
of service to country and help the poor increase their
social mobility. "
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In each issue of Statehouse Report, you'll get:
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