Should Lawyer-Legislators Appear Before Judges They Helped Appoi - WSPA.com

Should Lawyer-Legislators Appear Before Judges They Helped Appoint?

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Should lawyer-legislators appear in court before the judges they helped appoint? Should lawyer-legislators appear in court before the judges they helped appoint?
PICKENS COUNTY, S.C. -

State leaders are at odds over an ethics question about what goes on in the courtroom.

Democratic state senator and potential gubernatorial candidate Vince Sheheen is also a lawyer, with several pending cases before magistrate judges he recommended for their jobs.

State Senators nominate magistrate judges and the governor appoints them.

Gov. Nikki Haley calls Sheheen’s actions a conflict of interest.

It's also prompted Republican State Sen. Katrina Shealy to pre-file a bill that would ban the practice of lawyer-legislators appearing before the judges they helped appoint.

It's nothing new. A 7 On Your Side investigation last year revealed it was already happening. Sheheen told WSPA he doesn’t think it’s a conflict of interest.

“No, I think the code really clearly sets out what is and isn't, and I certainly abide by that. But I think we could improve the system by taking that question off the table," said Sheheen.

Sheheen introduced legislation that would require Supreme Court justices to recommend magistrate appointments instead of state senators.

Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Larry Martin from Pickens said that's not the answer.

“It would be a little bit awkward for Supreme Court justices -- there are only five of them -- to make recommendations for magistrates, many of whom they wouldn't even know," said Martin.

The Republican disagrees with members of his own party, including the governor, that this is a breach of ethics.

“What some people have raised is just an appearance of impropriety," said Martin.

He said he's not aware of any actual complaints about the judicial decisions in question.

“I haven't heard the complaint other than the political complaint. We're getting into an election year and I understand that political complaint," said Martin.

Many senators follow a state law that allows them to use screening committees to select their magistrate recommendations. Martin said that's what he does to provide an extra layer of detachment.

7 On Your Side has put in several calls to Sheheen's campaign manager to find out whether Sheheen uses these screening committees. We have not gotten any answers.

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