Palmetto Sunrise: Jenny Horne makes tearful farewell speech on S.C. House floor (copy)

Rep. Jenny Horne gives her farewell speech to the S.C. House in 2016 after serving eight years. MAYA T. PRABHU/STAFF

COLUMBIA — Former state Rep. Jenny Horne was among the applicants for a South Carolina state judgeship who did not make the final list for upcoming judicial elections in the Legislature.  

Horne, a Summerville Republican, and 13 others applied to fill a state circuit court vacancy, making it the most contested judicial race for February's selection process.

That race has been whittled down to three candidates, including the spouse of a current legislator, the son of a longtime state official and a former Williamsburg County assistant public defender. 

A legislative screening panel tasked with forwarding the top three names for each race picked:

  • Charleston Magistrate Jennifer McCoy, who is the wife of state Rep. Peter McCoy, R-James Island.
  • Grady "Leck" Patterson III, a retired Air National Guard brigadier general and son of the late Grady Patterson — state treasurer for 37 years.
  • Jerome Askins III of Johnsonville.

The winner will fill the vacancy created after Circuit Judge Tanya Gee died last year following a long battle with cancer.

Peter McCoy has said he has "absolutely nothing to do with the race" and voluntarily left the screening panel last year because of his wife's candidacy.  

The 10-member Judicial Merit Selection Commission, consisting of legislators and attorneys appointed by legislative leaders, met Wednesday by teleconference after finalists sought guidance on the process. The commission asked staff to write a memo reminding the nominees they're barred from seeking support, either directly or indirectly, until after the screening panel releases its report to the Legislature in mid-January.

Horne, who has a law firm in Summerville, did not seek a fifth term last year as she unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford. She did not immediately return a message from The Post and Courier.

There was no indication Wednesday as to why Horne or others didn't make the final cut.

Perhaps her most visible moment as a lawmaker was her impassioned plea to remove the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds after the mass shooting at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church.

Rep. Murrell Smith, the panel's chairman, called the selection process a tough decision.

"In every race, we have to assess all the candidates and find who the commission feels is most qualified," said Smith, R-Sumter. "Sometimes it's real close." 

Other candidates not making the final list for that "at-large" seat — meaning candidates could live anywhere — include Chad Simpson, an assistant solicitor for Charleston and Berkeley counties; Heather Weiss, an assistant deputy attorney general; Family Court Judge Kelly Pope-Black of Spartanburg; and Judge Marvin Dukes, Beaufort County's master-in-equity — a job that primarily handles real estate cases.

Those not chosen as finalists for other judicial races include University of South Carolina trustee Leah Moody, daughter of the late Rep. Bessie Moody-Lawrence; and Amy Cofield, the sister of USC trustee Tommy Cofield — appointed by then-Gov. Nikki Haley to replace school benefactor Darla Moore.

Moody, of Rock Hill, was among five applicants for a 16th Circuit seat. She is currently the only woman and only minority among USC's 18 board members who are either elected by the Legislature or appointed by the governor.

Amy Cofield, of Lexington, was among eight initial candidates for a seat in the 11th Circuit. Former Rep. Ralph Kennedy, R-Leesville, withdrew his name from contention. The finalists for that Midlands seat include Walton McLeod IV, son of former Rep. Walt McLeod, D-Little Mountain, who didn't seek re-election last year.

South Carolina is among just two states where legislators elect judges.

The 1996 reform law that created the screening process barred the then-common practice of lawmakers electing their colleagues to the bench directly from the Legislature, even if they weren't considered qualified. The state law requires legislators to be out of office for at least one year before applying to be a judge.

Follow Seanna Adcox on Twitter at @seannaadcox_pc.

Assistant Columbia bureau chief

Adcox returned to The Post and Courier in October 2017 after 12 years covering the Statehouse for The Associated Press. She previously covered education for The P&C. She has also worked for The AP in Albany, N.Y., and for The Herald in Rock Hill.