At a conference for prosecutors in Myrtle Beach, SC in September of this year, South Carolina Supreme Court Justice Donald Beatty warned attendees that the Court intended to crack down on prosecutorial misconduct and would not stop at overturning convictions, but would take prosecutors’ bar licenses. According to The Post and Courier:
Beatty, elected to the Supreme Court in 2007, told the audience of prosecutors they had “been getting away with too much for too long” and the high court will no longer turn a blind eye to unethical conduct such as witness tampering, selective and retaliatory prosecutions, perjury and suppression of evidence.
He added that “you better follow the rules or we are coming after you and will make an example,” according a summary of his comments.
“The pendulum has been swinging in the wrong direction for too long and now it’s going in the other direction,” the summary quotes him as saying. “Your bar licenses will be in jeopardy. We will take your license.”
Beatty, a Spartanburg native, recalled a case he handled as a circuit court judge in which a prosecutor kept a man in jail for 18 months hoping to pressure him into a guilty plea. He cited another case of “selective prosecution” in which prosecutors pursued a conviction against a prostitute but gave a free pass to the man who gave her drugs to pay for sex.
“For too long we have looked the other way but that’s over. We are not just going to overturn convictions; we are going to take your licenses,” Beatty told the group.
During his speech, Beatty called out [9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett] Wilson’s circuit by name, saying two assistant solicitors had recently been suspended there and another case is pending. “There will be more. We are making an example and will continue to do so.”
Wilson responded to Beatty’s comments by rounding up a number of circuit solicitors to write a letter to the Attorney General asking him to ensure Beatty is recused from hearing their criminal cases. In the letter, Wilson pushed back on the accuracy of Beatty’s assertions about prosecutors in her circuit. More from The Post and Courier:
Wilson, chief prosecutor for Charleston and Berkeley counties, wrote in her letter to state Attorney General Alan Wilson that she took issue with the justice’s “vitriolic tone,” his facts and remarks which appeared to “forecast his rulings in future cases.”
Wilson told the attorney general Beatty’s comments were especially shocking “because they are not true.” She said one prosecutor from her office has been disciplined for communicating with a cousin who was sitting on a jury during a 2007 murder trial, but the high court found no ill-intent on the attorney’s part.
The Attorney General responded on November 21 calling Beatty’s comments “unfortunate” and said he is looking into whether Beatty can and should be recused from criminal cases.