Legislators get bar's ear on lawyer discipline
Headline Legal News | 2008/03/06 03:07

Two House members pressing to take the power to regulate lawyers away from the State Supreme Court have won a meeting with an American Bar Association committee visiting Columbia.

The committee is in town reviewing the state’s lawyer discipline system. Chief Justice Jean Toal requested the review more than a year ago, long before the questions were raised about the court’s handling of a bar exam controversy.

The lawmakers, Reps. Kris Crawford, R-Florence, and Ted Pitts, R-Lexington, will meet with the ABA committee Friday.

The inner workings of the state judiciary have gotten statewide attention since November. At that time, news reports disclosed the Supreme Court had quietly thrown out a section of last July’s bar exam, a move that reversed the grades of 20 people who flunked the exam.

Those 20, now lawyers, included children of prominent state officials and law clerks to state judges.

The Supreme Court, the final authority in the matter, said the grade changes were made because of scoring errors. It has declined requests from The State for detailed information on its decision.

“I just believe when you look at any branch of government, there should be checks and balances and divisions of power,” said Crawford, a physician. He is lead sponsor of a bill that would remove lawyer regulation from the Supreme Court’s supervision and place it under the S.C. Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation.

LLR regulates other S.C. professions, including medicine and architecture. Part of the executive branch under Gov. Mark Sanford, its decisions can be appealed to the judiciary branch of state government up to the Supreme Court. But lawyers’ regulatory and disciplinary procedures, from start to finish, stay within the judiciary branch.

“We are glad to have (the lawmakers) talk to the committee,” Toal said Tuesday.

But the committee really isn’t set up to hear observations on proposed changes in the law, she said.

“If they want to see me, if they want to conduct hearings, that is the way to approach it,” she said, adding she would be glad to provide information to lawmakers about practices in other states.

The Supreme Court has paid a fee to the ABA to finance the committee’s evaluation. The ABA unit evaluates various states’ legal disciplinary systems.

Toal did not know how much the committee’s study would cost. Asked if its report would be made public, Toal said she won’t know until the report is done, but added, “I imagine some sort of results would be made public.”

Crawford said he hopes a Judiciary Committee subcommittee, where his bill now is, will soon hold hearings on the matter.

Pitts, a real estate broker, wants the results of the ABA committee’s findings to be made public.

“Our legal system is the foundation of this country, and the general public just wants to make sure everybody is treated fairly and equally,” Pitts said.



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