Meet Barbara Morgan, A Public Servant in the Courtroom
Barbara Morgan, Former 2nd Circuit Solicitor.
With only one woman solicitor to serve as an example, former Aiken Solicitor, Barbara Morgan, faced a dilemma in 1989 when she decided to run for the position left open by her predecessor. “It wasn’t too long before that that women weren’t even allowed to serve on juries,” Morgan laughs. “There were serious doubts that the governor would even appoint a woman – it was considered risky, unproven.” But Morgan’s love the law made it worth facing the scrutiny of the governor’s appointment process. Four terms later in 2009, Barbara Morgan, a Republican, retired to do other things with her time. Today, she tells women to not be afraid and to realize that women bring a wonderful and unique perspective to politics and public service. Read more.
Barbara Morgan began her career as the elected chief prosecutor with an unexpected opportunity. Working as a deputy Solicitor in South Carolina’s Second Judicial Circuit (Aiken, Bamberg, and Barnwell counties) she was at a crossroad when her boss decided to return to private practice a year after he had been re-elected. Then Governor Campbell would appoint his successor to serve the unexpired term.
“I faced an unusual dilemma,” Morgan says. ”I had not ever considered being in politics on any level.” At that time, 1989, there had only been one woman elected solicitor in South Carolina and she had not been re-elected. “There were serious doubts that the governor would appoint a woman – it was considered risky, unproven.” As the chief law enforcement officer in the counties he served, the job of solicitor had long been considered best handled by a man. Her brother gave her the motivation she needed, “if not you, who?”
The role of women in South Carolina’s courtrooms had been changing. The General Assembly, in 1969, changed the law to allow women to serve on juries. By the mid-1980’s there were only a handful of women actively trying cases in the courtrooms of our
state. In 1988, Jean Hoefer Toal was elected as the first woman on the South Carolina Supreme Court. But at that time, there was only one woman serving on the circuit court bench. Morgan was up against a lot of history. She was also a divorcee and a single mother.
“I worried it would be difficult for me to be appointed. I was a divorced woman with a child, and at 34 years old was considered relatively young for this type of job.” Morgan commented. “Being a single parenting was not easy, but if anything it helped me put things in perspective. Children keep you grounded and focused on what really matters.” she reflected.
Her love for the law and the courtroom was worth facing the scrutiny of the governor’s appointment process. In her first two years after graduating from law school, Morgan worked as a law clerk for a judge who kept a busy trial schedule. She was sometimes able to see two or three trials a week.
“I was able to see some of the best trial lawyers in front of juries throughout all parts of SC. It was amazing to observe the difference in lawyers and how they handled the juries as well as the judges and other lawyers,” Morgan reflects. “I really enjoyed seeing criminal cases. I thought being a prosecutor was the best job a lawyer could have. You were a public servant and the cases were exciting, challenging, and required you to constantly learn.”
Because Morgan had been in the courts for eight years, entrenched in both the public and legal communities; “every sheriff in law enforcement” wrote letters of endorsement for her. “When the appointment came down, I was humbled beyond words at the people who made calls, and spoken to the governor on my behalf – even victims I had dealt with, people in the community that were aware of what I had done,” she said.
Morgan, a Republican, began her term as Solicitor for the 2nd Judicial Circuit of South Carolina in 1990. After four more elections, she retired in 2009. It was a full two decades after that first anxious appointment process, and a world away from the doubts about her readiness. Over the course of her career, she witnessed dramatic changes in the landscape of South Carolina’s legal community.
“Prosecutors were not traditionally women prior to the ‘80s,” Morgan noted. ”When I graduated law school in ‘81, our class was less than one third women. That number of women went up exponentially in just a few years.”
Morgan expressed hope that women won’t need to do the 120% to men’s 80% as they did when she started out in the law. “Back in the day, women had to do more work to look comparable, right or wrong I think it is part of the process of being about change and I’m hoping today young women well appreciate what has changed and not be afraid to be in the public eye.”
She advises developing good interpersonal skills and a connection to your constituency. “It’s about learning and experiencing all kinds of people,” Morgan stated. ”The thrilling part of politics is talking to people of all different origins and places, hearing their stories, their ideas about how to improve our country and our state. You can learn from all kinds of people.”
Today she serves on the boards of a therapeutic children’s home, a community medical clinic in Aiken, the Rotary club, and teaches Sunday School. She has even extended her passion for the drama and storytelling of the courtroom to movie production, most notably the documentary ‘Edgewood’.
Morgan’s advice to women running today is simple. “I think women in any field can improve and enhance that field, just by their presence. [My advice is] to not be afraid, to realize that women bring a wonderful and unique perspective to politics and public service; be true to yourself, whether you’re a man or a woman.”