By Paul Gable
The Probate Judge Republican primary battle in Horry County brings to light some interesting details about South Carolina’s legal system.
On the surface, there may not seem to be much separating the two candidates with incumbent Probate Judge Deirdre Edmonds being challenged by one of her former associate judges, Kathy Ward.
But, that’s where South Carolina law steps in. With its head stuck in the 19th Century, you don’t even have to be a graduate of a law school or have passed the bar exam to be a candidate for Probate Judge in this state, thanks to its 1895 Constitution.
That may have been fine for South Carolina in 1895 when the state was still suffering quite severely from the Civil War and Reconstruction. Most estates probably didn’t include much more than a mule and a couple of chickens and it was difficult, especially in the many rural areas of the state, to find a member of the bar.
But, this is not 1895. Estates are much more complicated and there is no shortage of attorneys admitted to practice before the bar.
Edmonds is a graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law and was admitted to the bar in 1987. She was a practicing attorney specializing in estate planning, probate, tax and elderly law before becoming Probate Judge. Should she leave the bench today, Edmonds could be back representing clients in Probate Court or any other South Carolina courtroom tomorrow.
Kathy Ward is not an attorney or member of the bar. During her time under Edmonds in Probate Court, Ward only heard non-contested cases. She is not licensed to practice law and cannot even represent clients in Probate Court even though she was an associate judge there before resigning.
Two other important functions of the Probate Judge are to conduct hearings and make decisions regarding guardianship and conservatorship for incapacitated citizens as well as to hear and decide on involuntary commitments for treatment of mental and/or physical conditions.
It is up to the voters of Horry County to cast a ballot for who they feel is most qualified to make the difficult decisions with regard to estates, heirs, guardianship, involuntary commitment and the law.
For me the choice is startlingly clear – Deirdre Edmonds is easily the most qualified based on her education, qualifications and experience. I want someone with considerable experience in practice and the law making those decisions.
We are well beyond the archaic laws of 1895. The court system should be also.