Why Do Lawmakers Favor Some Solicitor’s Offices Over Others?

January 20, 2014

Inside Insight

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Under the Title 1, Chapter 7, Article 1 statutory scheme, there’s apparently only one reason legislators give more staffing and funding to the solicitor’s office of Judicial District 9, which covers Charleston and Berkeley counties, than to any other: to vest legislative interest and control over a state law enforcement office.

Solicitors are full-time elected state officers. Each of the state’s sixteen judicial districts has one. Their compensation is provided by the General Assembly. Statutes 1-7-310 through 1-7-407 apply to every solicitor’s office. The Legislature provides salary and expenses for one investigator and assistant solicitor, “or such other staff as may be designated by each solicitor for his circuit,” with general appropriations. Each solicitor may hire as many assistant solicitors as he or she deems necessary. Funding for these additional assistants is provided by the counties in the subject district. Per section 407, funding for aforementioned solicitor office staffing is held, tracked and disbursed by county officials under agreement between the solicitor and the administering county.

Each of the sections from 410 to 530 provides additional funding sources, appointment authority and duties for assistant solicitors in arrangements unique to each of districts 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14 and 16.

There seems to be no public need filled by giving eleven districts extra, unique solicitor office resources while ignoring five.

Per section 490, District 9 gets seven additional assistant solicitors and associated funding – five more than any other beneficiary district. Three of these extras must be ‘approved’ by legislative delegation

There’s no correlation between extra resources and – well – any factual consideration.

District 9 doesn’t get extra resources because of population. Three of the five districts legislators ignored have a higher population than several districts favored with extra staffing. Ignored District 2 is higher than beneficiary districts 3, 4, and 8. Ignored districts 11 and 15 have higher populations than beneficiary districts 3, 4, 8, 1, 16, 14, and 10.

District 9 doesn’t get extra resources because there’s more crime to fight. SLED’s crime book data is the most comprehensive source on county by county crime, but because of data modeling limitations, it’s not a reliable, accurate measure of relative difference between district offense rates.

District 9 doesn’t have more duties to justify the extra staff. District 14 solicitor’s office is statutorily mandated extra duties to support the Colleton County grand jury. Legislators gave it only one extra assistant. Legislators gave other beneficiary districts extra assistants, but no extra duties.

Finally, legislators didn’t give District 9 the most extra resources because it’s the poorest. Or the richest. According to data from the South Carolina Association of Counties, beneficiary District 9 per-capita revenue is higher than that of ignored districts 2 and 12; higher than beneficiary districts 1, 3, 8, 12, and 14, lower than ignored districts 6, 11, and 15; lower than beneficiary districts 4, 5, 7, 10, 13, and 16.

What is the real reason District 9 is legislatively favored? The history of solicitor office staffing and gubernatorial appointments might be a clue.

District 9 is the only district in which former state Attorney General Charlie Condon worked, first as assistant solicitor, then as solicitor. It’s also the solicitor’s office in which current Attorney General Alan Wilson worked under Condon before being appointed to work in the AG office under former Attorney General Henry McMaster. Current Solicitor Scarlett Wilson first took this office by gubernatorial appointment.

Whatever the true purpose of these apparently arbitrary enactments, one thing is clear. In what is typical, status-quo fashion for this state’s General Assembly, legislators use the laws citizens pay them to enact for purposes known only to themselves.

Katrina Fay is a Nerve Citizen Reporter from Hickory Tavern.