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SC Commission Announces 6 Candidates for Next Supreme Court Seat

Originally published by Maggie Brown for WIS

The South Carolina Judicial Merit Selection Commission announced its six candidates for the next open state supreme court seat.

In South Carolina, the supreme court is chosen by the commission, which is made up of 10 people. Six of those members are elected representatives from the house and senate. Four of the members are not representatives.

Justice Donald Beatty ― who has reached the South Carolina Supreme Court’s age limit ― is retiring this year. After his retirement, Justice John Kittridge will become chief and take Beatty’s place.

The six candidates who are up for the seat are Ralph Anderson, Blake Hewitt, Deadra Jefferson, Keith Kelly, Jocelyn Newman and Letitia Verdin.

Three of the candidates are women and two are Black women.

Currently, the court has no women, and after Beatty’s retirement the court will be made up of all white men. One of the the candidates is a former Republican House member.

Public hearings for all candidates before the Judicial Merit Selection Commission will be held on May 9.

Ralph K. Anderson, III

Anderson is from Columbia and graduated from Frances Marion University in 1980. He attended law school at the University of South Carolina and is married to Linda Anderson, a former South Carolina representative.

He began his career at the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office as a prosecutor before being elected as an administrative law judge in 1994.

Anderson was elected chief judge of the court in May 2009 and he has served on the administrative law court ever since.

The administrative law court is part of the executive branch of government South Carolina is a independent forum for hearing contested cases of state agencies, according to the court’s website.

Administrative law judges are elected by a joint session of the General Assembly and approved by the JMSC.

Blake A. Hewitt

Hewitt is currently serving as a judge on the court of appeals. He began his role as a judge in January 2020. Before being elected as a judge, he practiced law for 10 years and has experience in statewide general litigation. Hewitt clerked for former justice Jean Toal on the South Carolina Supreme Court, according to his profile on the South Carolina Judicial Branch’s website.

When asked what his position is on “judicial activism,” in 2018, he said:

“A judge’s role is to enforce the law as it has been written by the legislature ― not to make the law of the judge’s own design. The role of a judge is a limited one. Judge’s must have the modest and humility to understand and embrace this principle.”

Hewitt graduated from the Georgia Institute of technology and the University of South Carolina School of Law.

He currently lives in Conway.

Deadra L. Jefferson

Jefferson, from Charleston, received a bachelors at Converse College and her law degree in 1989 at USC’s law school. She was the law clerk for Richard E. Fields, who was a judge for the 9th circuit court in South Carolina, from 1989 through 1990, according to her biography on the South Carolina Judicial Branch website.

After clerking for the judge, she started her own private practice until elected by the South Carolina General Assembly as the Residential Family Court Judge for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, where she has served since 2001.

When being selected by the JMSC for her position on the family court, one of Jefferson’s five references was former Chief Justice Jean Toal.

Jefferson is a part of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, the South Carolina Women Lawyers Association and South Carolina Black Lawyers Association.

Jefferson shared personal information about herself as part of a series questions from the JMSC in 2018.

“I was taught that the position of a judge should be a continual growth process. I believe that I have continuously grown in my judicial perspective. I still have the same enjoyment for my work as the day I began 22 years ago,” she said.

R. Keith Kelly

Kelly, who is from Woodruff, is a former lawyer, a former representative and veteran.

He attended the University of South Carolina in Spartanburg and was cross-enrolled in the U.S. Army ROTC program at Wofford College, according to his profile on the South Carolina Judicial Branch website.

His biography says he accepted his U.S. Army Regular Army Commission as an officer and reported to active duty after graduating in 1981. He left the military to attend law school in 1984. He received his law degree from Mercer University and returned home to Spartanburg to practice law.

Kelly is a former Republican South Carolina House representative for District 35, which represents Spartanburg.

He was screened by the JMSC then appointed as a South Carolina at-large circuit court judge. He resigned from the house when appointed.

He answered a question from the commission in 2012 regarding the relationships between lawyers and legislatures.

Kelly was asked: “What is your philosophy on recusal, especially in situations in which lawyer-legislatures, former associates, or law partners are to appear before you?”

He responded: “I would exercise recusal in a manner consistent with the ethical canons in order to avoid improprieties and the appearance of improprieties. A judge’s decision concerning recusal should be cautiously entered into to avoid frivolous attacks which are meritless … I would not recuse myself merely because a lawyer-legislature is a counsel of record.”

Jocelyn Newman

Newman, daughter of Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman, went to public school in Columbia and attended college at both Duke University and the University of South Carolina.

According to her biography, she attended law school at Howard University, a private, historically Black research university in Washington, D.C., where she was a Merit Scholar.

She received her law degree in 2004 and was a judicial law clerk for former Circuit Court Judge G. Thomas Cooper Jr. Afterward, she was an assistant solicitor for the Fifth Circuit Solicitor’s Office, which covers Richland and Kershaw counties. She then started her private practice.

In 2015, she was elected to the circuit court, followed in her father’s footsteps and became a judge herself. She is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the S.C. Black Lawyers Association and the S.C. Women Lawyers Association.

She appeared for questioning before the JMSC in 2012 when applying for the at-large Circuit Court seat.

She told the commission in 2012 she was named by Super Lawyers, a rating service for lawyers, one of South Carolina’s “Rising Stars.” The majority of her experience has been practicing civil law.

Newman was asked: “What do you feel is the appropriate demeanor for a judge?”

She responded: “I feel the appropriate demeanor for a judge is to remain calm even in the most trying situations; to exude confidence, integrity and impartiality in order to promote confidence in the judicial system.”

Letitia H. Verdin

Verdin graduated from Furman University in 1992 and received her law degree from the University of South Carolina.

After graduating law school, she was an assistant solicitor with the office of the 13th Circuit Solicitor, which covers Greenville and Pickens counties. After working there, she joined the 8th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, which represents Abbeville, Greenwood, Laurens and Newberry counties.

She headed the family court unit for juvenile prosecution in both circuits, according to her biography on the South Carolina Judicial Branch’s website.

In 2000, she joined a Greenville law firm and practiced law privately until 2005, when she returned to the 13th Circuit Solicitor’s Office to prosecute cases of child abuse, neglect and domestic violence.

She was elected to the Family Court as a resident judge in 2008 and then in 2011 the South Carolina legislature elected her to the Circuit Court.

When answering questions from the JMSC for her judicial appointment, she included personal information about her life and experience.

“I have been faced with a number of very difficult decisions in these positions, but I have attempted to approach these matters with an open, and hopefully, fair mind … I have endeavored to deal with matters before me efficiently and justly. I also believe my legal experience, equally divided between civil and criminal law, has given me a broad base of knowledge,” she said.

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