South Carolina Lawyer
SC Lawyer, March 2008, #2.
Dealing with 1Judges' Critics
South Carolina LawyerMarch 2008Dealing with 1Judges' CriticsBy John Freeman There is a saying, "May you live in interesting times." The wish is actually said to be a curse. After all, uninteresting times are those filled with peace and tranquility; in contrast, the curse, of supposedly Chinese origin, politely asks that your life be plagued by upheaval and trouble. Lately we've experienced interesting times for those who decide cases in South Carolina.
Judge John Few of Greenville recently was praised by lawyer for taxpayer advocate Ned Sloan as someone who "thoroughly considers the issues." A different view was offered by Greenville County Councilman Tony Trout. Mr. Trout explained to the Greenville News that he was "not trying to impugn the judge's character" with comments he made in a letter to the paper's editor. After all, he merely contended in the letter that the judge "set out to intimidate and to hinder the grand jury every way possible," had been "personally leaking everything [about the grand jury's actions] to the press," "had a large conflict of interest" and had been acting "arrogantly." Imagine how bad it could have been had Mr. Trout taken off the gloves and actually sought to impugn the judge's character.
The formal response to those charges was not made by Judge Few. His ability to defend himself by responding was limited by Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 3B(9), barring judges from making any public statements that might reasonably be expected to affect the outcome or impair the fairness of any proceeding pending or impending in any court. The matter in question concerned issues before the Greenville grand jury for which Judge Few functioned in an administrative capacity. Grand jury deliberations are confidential. In this state, there is a "long held policy that '[i]nvestigations and deliberations of a grand jury are conducted in secret and are, as a rule, legally sealed against divulgence.'" Anderson v. State, 338 S.C. 629, 632, 527 S.E.2d 398, 399 (S.C. App. 2000).
Because there was little, if anything, Judge Few could say to defend his behavior, the public faced an imbalance of information on an issue of public importance. This problem was rectified when the Bar's Commission on Judicial...