House Speaker Asks Supreme Court to Dismiss Citizen Petition against JMSC

February 2, 2015

Investigative Reports

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SC Supreme CourtUpdate: 2/3/15 – In an order released to The Nerve this afternoon, the S.C. Supreme Court unanimously rejected a complaint filed by Brenda Bryant against the state Judicial Merit Selection Commission (JMSC), ruling that the complaint is “dismissed with prejudice,” and that no petition for rehearing “shall be entertained.” The justices in their two-page order, dated Monday, described Bryant as a “disgruntled litigant who is subject to a bench warrant issued for her arrest for contempt based on her refusal to pay sanctions ordered by Judge (Edward) Miller as a result of petitioner’s filing of a frivolous complaint.” The court rejected Bryant’s arguments that the JMSC is unconstitutional, citing a 2010 ruling; and her contention she was prevented from testifying at Miller’s November screening hearing, and that her complaint against Miller was not considered.

S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas has asked the state Supreme Court to reject a petition by a Lexington County woman seeking to stop Wednesday’s scheduled election of an incumbent circuit judge and have the state judicial screening committee declared unconstitutional.

In his 15-page response filed last week, Lucas, R-Darlington, said the five-member court should grant the “original jurisdiction” petition by Brenda Bryant, “dispense with further briefing, and dismiss the Petition and Complaint with prejudice.”

“Entertaining the merits of Bryant’s Complaint will only serve to involve the judicial branch in policy issues which are reserved to the JMSC (Judicial Merit Selection Commission) and General Assembly,” Lucas, an attorney, said in the response. “Nothing in the State’s constitution compels the Court to act as mediator in policy disputes related to the fitness of a candidate for judicial office.”

Lucas’ response was filed with the court Wednesday by Michael Anzelmo, an attorney with the Columbia-based law firm of Nelson Mullins. The same day, the S.C. Attorney General’s Office submitted a letter to the court as a “statement of concurrence of the State of South Carolina in the legal grounds contained within the Respondents’ Return.”

Bryant, a non-lawyer, contends in her 13-page petition and complaint, which she filed on her own with the court on Jan. 20, contends the JMSC violated her due process rights by not allowing her to testify at a Nov. 5 screening hearing for Greenville County Circuit Judge Edward “Ned” Miller, who is seeking re-election to a six-year term; not allowing evidence against Miller to be placed in the public record; and dissuading two attorney-witnesses from testifying.

She has asked the justices to issue an injunction halting Wednesday’s scheduled re-election of Miller, who has been on the bench since 2002, in the General Assembly until a final ruling is issued. The court, however, has not acted on that request.

Meanwhile, the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC), a branch of the Supreme Court that investigates ethics complaints against judges on behalf of the Commission on Judicial Conduct, is continuing its investigation of a complaint filed by Bryant against Miller, Bryant told The Nerve last week.

Miller testified at his November screening hearing that he serves on the Commission of Judicial Conduct, a 26-member, judge-dominated panel appointed by the Supreme Court that investigates – relying on the ODC – and recommends sanctions to the high court against judges who commit ethical violations.

Bryant in her Supreme Court petition names the JMSC; Lucas; Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence; and Yancey McGill, the immediate past lieutenant governor and Senate president, as parties. In his response, Lucas noted that JMSC, Leatherman and Henry McMaster, the current lieutenant governor and Senate president, “join in this Return in full.”

Bryant, whose case has been chronicled by The Nerve since October, says she has been forced to live as an out-of-state fugitive since Miller in April 2012 issued a bench warrant for her arrest in connection with her legal battle for guardianship over her adult intellectually disabled daughter.

Miller in his ruling said he was issuing a bench warrant for Bryant’s “immediate arrest” after finding her in contempt for ignoring previous court orders to pay sanctions in connection with the case, and ordered her to pay $9,639, which included attorney fees and interest.

Bryant, who has been jailed twice on contempt of court charges, contends in her Supreme Court petition that Miller violated her due process rights by “sanctioning the petitioner with legal fees, dismissing a complaint without a fair hearing, issuing a criminal bench warrant with no bond, nor holding a bond hearing.”

Bryant, who says she can’t return to South Carolina for fear of arrest on the outstanding warrant, offered to testify at Miller’s November screening hearing via Skype video, though her request was denied.

The Nerve last month reported that JMSC member and House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville and an attorney, didn’t abstain from questioning Miller during the November hearing or later voting to nominate him, despite Miller’s testimony during the hearing that he “appears before me on a regular basis.”

Bryant in her petition said Bannister had a “conflict of interest” and “should have recused himself from the vote.”

Lucas in his response didn’t address that issue or several of Bryant’s other due-process claims. Instead, he mainly contended Bryant’s claims that the JMSC violates the dual-office holding and separation-of-powers provisions of the state constitution were addressed – and dismissed – in a 2010 Supreme Court ruling.

In that ruling, the court upheld the JMSC’s finding that then-longtime Charleston County Family Court Judge Frances “Charlie” Segars-Andrews was no longer qualified to serve.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.