Of Counsel

Legal Notes on Georgia and The South

Solicitor Drama in South Carolina

Posted by Maggie on February 19, 2008

Apparently there’s more than one election going on in the country this year. Today my attention was brought to the race for GOP candidate for 9th Circuit Solicitor General in South Carolina. And it’s a juicy one. I love making the rounds and stumbling across a story like this.

So the Solicitor passed away. The new one, Scarlett Wilson, a former AUSA, was appointed to take over the office. After taking office, Wilson gave an ultimatum to Blair Jennings, a Deputy Solicitor: quit or you’re fired. While these sorts of political dealings are always murky, it appears that Jennings was planning to run for the office Wilson was currently holding. Whether Wilson’s actions were appropriate is debatable. Everyone agrees Jennings wasn’t fired because of any deficiency in his work, but maybe you don’t want rivals as co-workers. Maybe it’s best for the office. Who knows. But things get more complicated.

Jennings was ousted in September, 2007. Last week, a murder case that was previously handled by Jennings, now in the hands of his successor, went to trial. It was a two-defendant case where a cab driver had been killed. The call for the cab was made from the home of defendant Oliver Hicks. Both Hicks and Reginald Hamilton were arrested. At trial, Hicks testified against Hamilton, claiming he’d been the triggerman. Hicks hasn’t yet pled guilty, but a deal was in the works contingent on testimony.

Hamilton was acquitted. The jury was out for less than 25 minutes. (!!!) And now the two candidates are pointing fingers. Wilson claims the case had already been mis-managed by Jennings, that he ran off potential witnesses, and that he made a deal with the wrong defendant. Jennings says he didn’t make a deal with either defendant and that the office that tried the case is the office responsible.

Local blog Cedar Posts and Barbwire Fences has a pretty extensive post detailing the multitude of problems in the Solicitor’s office since Wilson took over. (Besides the acquittal, an assistant solicitor was arrested for pointing a firearm at a person in an incident being labeled as “road rage.”) (Cedar Posts gives no identifying information. A commenter at the Charleston News Ledger accused him of being candidate Blair Jennings, though he insists he isn’t affiliated with either candidate.)

As for me, I have a few questions. Like which witnesses could have made a difference in the murder trial. It seems like the jury really didn’t believe the co-defendant’s testimony and I doubt other witnesses really could have bolstered it. Deals can be made and deals can be broken, so unless a plea had already taken place I don’t know why the prosecutors were committed to Hicks as the testifying defendant. And ultimately, the one running the office is the one who decides what goes to trial. Sounds like Wilson is frantically trying to make Jennings a scapegoat.

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