I have decided I am going to give newly installed South Carolina circuit court judge Heath Preston Taylor the benefit of the doubt. I am going to let Taylor prove to me – and others watching – that he is capable of demonstrating a genuine commitment to even-handed justice for our citizens (all of our citizens).
Hopefully, the Palmetto State’s newest robe – who was sworn in on July 5, 2022 in St. Matthews, S.C. – will chart a course which puts the interests of victims (and the interest of public safety) ahead of the interests of powerful lawyer-legislators and the violent criminals they represent.
Most importantly, I hope Taylor will be an independent arbiter – a seeker of truth uninhibited by the influence (pressure?) of the lawmakers who put him in his seat. You know, the politicians who handpick judges, set their salaries, control their budgets … and then reap the ill-gotten rewards of this authority.
Will he, though?
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Seriously … why maintain the separation of powers charade if the power isn’t actually going to be separated?
And if the power isn’t going to be separated … how can we trust it is being administered fairly?
Short answer: We can’t.
Because it isn’t.
Among the most infamous case studies of South Carolina “injustice” my news outlet has covered over the years is the Bowen Turner saga. For those of you uninitiated, Turner pleaded guilty in April to one count of simple assault in connection with the alleged rape of teenager Chloe Bess. For this crime, he received probation from S.C. circuit court judge Markley Dennis.
Dennis’ ridiculously lenient sentence drew national outrage … and has sparked a new, robust victims’ rights movement in the Palmetto State.
Two other sexual assault charges against Turner were controversially dropped by the office of embattled S.C. second circuit solicitor Bill Weeks. One of those cases – involving the late Dallas Stoller – is currently under review, however. Stoller tragically took her own life last fall due in part to a sustained bullying campaign by Turner’s defenders in and around Orangeburg, S.C., a town of approximately 12,500 located nearly forty miles southeast of the state capital of Columbia.
S.C. Senate minority leader Brad Hutto represented Turner in the sexual assault cases – helping negotiate the lenient sentence approved by judge Dennis. He also notoriously slut-shamed one of the victims in this case in open court.
As I noted last month, apparently the case has been bad for business at the firm – and bad for the political fortunes of its “well-heeled attorneys.”
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Not bad enough, however, for Williams and Williams to refrain from hosting a tone-deaf reception for judge Taylor immediately following his investiture ceremony. That’s right. According to reporter Martha Rose Brown of The (Orangeburg, S.C.) Times and Democrat, the very first thing Taylor did after receiving his gavel was to attend a party in his honor paid for by Williams and Williams, a firm whose attorneys (including Hutto) will soon be appearing before him in court.
Hutto also spoke at the investiture – heaping praise on Taylor for his alleged integrity and commitment to justice. Another lawmaker spoke of how his father had coached Taylor on a little league baseball team.
Cue Norman Rockwell, right?
Sheesh. I get there are those who will tell me to pop a pair of calming gummies and save my spleen on this one … but seriously?
This is same sh*t, different day. More quids, more pros, more quos … and likely more of the sort of insider deals that put Bowen Turner and other violent criminals back on the streets. Back-scratching like this may be celebrated by the mainstream press – which continues to treat these ”honorables” with a reverent deference – but I have seen more than enough of the injustice that flows from such cronyism to remain silent.
And increasingly, I am not alone …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
(Via: Johanna Folks/ FITSNews)
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that St. Louis Cardinals’ lid pictured above).
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