If you think the wheels of justice in South Carolina grind slowly now, you should know that they can go even more slowly. And they likely will if the Legislature fails to increase the number of judges.
The House of Representatives approved a budget proposal that includes $2.9 million to pay for six more family court judges and three more circuit court judges. The budget bill being discussed in the Senate maintains the funding. Those judicial seats are essential for justice to be dealt efficiently and in a timely fashion.
Unfortunately, Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, is gumming things up. Before more judges are sworn in, the Legislature must pass a separate bill to create their positions. Mr. Peeler says judges are not among the things that the state needs most, and he is threatening to block the bill.
Perhaps he will be persuaded by these disturbing facts:
¦ South Carolina has fewer judges per capita than any other state — one for every 100,000 people.
¦ Each judge averages 5,011 new cases a year. That’s almost three times the national average of 1,791.
¦ The state has not added any new judges since 1997, despite an annual request from Chief Justice Jean Toal.
Without additional judges, the ill effects will be felt beyond the courtroom where citizens have longer to wait for their cases to be heard. As Judge Toal told the Legislature in February, the courts also play an important role in economic development, like bringing in Amazon, BMW, Boeing, Bridgestone/Firestone, Continental Tires and Michelin.
Businesses expect a fair and timely resolution to legal disputes, and absent that opportunity, they might not be so inclined to locate in South Carolina.
Mrs. Toal took the high road in comments to The State newspaper, saying Sen. Peeler’s hesitation is appropriate. Analyzing the issue carefully is “what thoughtful people are supposed to do.”
There is little question that analysis will show that the state needs more judges on the bench to ensure justice, to enhance the state’s allure to business and simply to do the right thing for the courts.