COLUMBIA — Just two of the 44 South Carolina judges up for re-election by the Legislature next year face any opposition.
Tripp Anderson, chief judge of the Administrative Law Court since 2009, and Kelly Pope-Black, a Family Court judge since 2013, each attracted a single challenger.
The general lack of opposition to incumbent judges signifies they're doing a good job, said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield.
"If you're not getting any opposition, there must be general satisfaction with the way those judges do business," he said. "If someone's not competent or doing a good job, someone will run against them."
South Carolina is among just two states where legislators elect judges to interpret the laws they pass. The Judicial Merit Selection Commission last week began screening all incumbents and would-be judges. The public hearings continue next week.
The commission, a panel of legislators and attorneys created by a 1996 state law, vets judicial candidates and sends up to three per race to the floor for a vote by the Legislature. Anyone deemed unqualified can’t be forwarded.
In all, 79 people applied for 54 spots on South Carolina's collective bench, including the Administrative Law Court, Circuit Court, Family Court, and masters-in-equity — a job that primarily handles real estate cases. Legislative elections are set for February.
Ten judge seats had no incumbents — five because of South Carolina's requirement that judges retire the year they turn 72. One judge won a seat on another court. And one died in March.
The most contested race will fill the Circuit Court seat being vacated by Kristi Harrington, a Berkeley County judge who opted to withdraw from her re-election bid last November amid anonymous accusations about her demeanor from the bench. She was unopposed when she abruptly removed herself from contention.
That race drew nine candidates.
The three the commission selected to forward for a vote includes Folly Beach municipal Judge Bentley Price, Berkeley County master-in-equity Dale Van Slambrook and attorney Meredith Coker, a former College of Charleston professor. Those who didn't make the cut included Family Court Judge Michele Forsythe and North Charleston Magistrate Ittriss Jenkins.
In the contested races for sitting judges, Anderson faces Thomas Rosamond Smith of Columbia, an attorney for the state's Medicaid agency. Anderson was first elected in 1994 to the court that hears disputes about state agencies' decisions.
He is only the court's second chief judge since the Legislature created the independent agency in 1993. He has unsuccessfully sought a seat on the state Supreme Court.
Pope-Black, of Spartanburg, occupies one of the judicial seats the Legislature added in 2012 to help address court backlogs. David Collins of Greenville is challenging Pope-Black.
The terms for both Anderson and Pope-Black expire in June.
Neither judge, nor their challengers, returned phone calls Monday from The Post and Courier.