A top state senator has cautioned Associate Justice Donald Beatty, who is slated to be elected S.C. Supreme Court chief justice Wednesday, that he needs keep any “combative nature” he might have in check because he will be a “role model for his fellow judges in this state.”
“Justice Beatty needs to understand that he is not just a person and the office to which he aspires is not just a job,” wrote state Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens.
“The office of chief justice is the pinnacle of the judicial branch of government in South Carolina, and as such, he or she is the example of that branch to both those who practice in our courts and those who appear therein.”
Martin, a 31-year Senate veteran, is chairman of the Judicial Selection Merit Commission, which screens candidates, including Supreme Court candidates, for judgeships.
Although commission members, including Martin, unanimously found Beatty qualified for the chief justice’s post and nominated him for election, Martin aired concerns he had about Beatty’s temperament in a written comment attached to the commission’s final report.
Martin said his concerns stemmed from a heated exchange the two men had during Beatty’s April 24 screening meeting with commission members.
During that exchange, Martin asked Beatty questions about a 2013 speech that Beatty gave at a solicitors’ conference in Myrtle Beach. Beatty had warned solicitors that if prosecutors commit misconduct, they will be held accountable by the court.
The speech ignited a firestorm among state prosecutors, many of whom – including Attorney General Alan Wilson – issued public statements that Beatty had done something improper by making the speech.
Others defended Beatty, saying that by speaking publicly against ethical violations, he was only doing what was right. The controversy since has died down, and prosecutors did not oppose Beatty in his bid for the chief justice post.
At the April hearing, when asked by Martin about the controversy, Beatty – who had not made any public statements about the matter for three years – grew testy and, at hearing’s end, apologized to Martin.
“Given Justice Beatty’s apology during the hearing, I am hopeful he will concentrate his efforts on serving as the appropriate role model for his fellow judges in this state,” Martin wrote.
Earlier this week, a Beatty supporter, state Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, who like Martin is a commission member, said he has no doubt Beatty would be an “exemplary” chief justice.
Both Martin and Beatty are professionals, and the April 24 hearing represented a “one-time event” from which both men have moved on, Malloy said.
Beatty, who is running unopposed for the chief justice post, did not respond to messages left at his Columbia and Spartanburg offices seeking comment. He is slated to be only the second African-American justice to serve as chief since Reconstruction.