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Judge F.P. Segars-Andrews’ troubles

If one reads the comments on the Charleston Post and Courier’s web site regarding the Judicial Merit Selection Commission’s preliminary decision that Judge F.P. Segars-Andrews is unqualified to remain a family court judge because of her handling of a divorce case in which there was a business relationship between her husband’s law partner and one of the litigant’s attorneys, one hears from what appears to be a number of disgruntled litigants or friends and spouses of disgruntled litigants.  One of them even quotes from my blog criticizing family court judicial decision-making for failing to apply what I believe are the standards necessary to give family court orders legitimacy.

One can further read the snarky but accurate comment of family court colleague D. Dusty Rhoades, who correctly notes that it’s not surprising the local family court bar would rally around an embattled judge.  “It’s a no-lose deal for any attorney because you can curry favor with a judge in question so that if they win, you can hope that’s going to carry over to better treatment. And if they lose, there’s no retribution,” Rhoades said. “I call it ‘Not a Moment in Courage.’”

Any family court judge is going to collect disgruntled litigants, who blame their woes on the judge who heard their case. Thus the dichotomy between the general public’s vitriol (or at least the section of the general public most inclined to publicly comment) and the family court bar’s public support is expected.  In this instance, I believe the local bar is correct in its support of Judge Segars-Andrews.

As someone who has blogged critically about our judiciary on occasion, I would hope I might have some credibility when I write that what is happening to Judge Segars-Andrews is, from what has been reported to date, inexplicable.  Not only is she being found unqualified for making a decision that an ethics professor, the Court of Appeals and the Judicial Disciplinary Committee have all sanctioned but, from my reading on of the issue, it appears the complaining litigant may have sandbagged her and the opposing party before raising this conflict issue.

As I understand the chronology of events, Judge Segars-Andrews had heard the Simpson divorce case and issued a preliminary memo ruling when Mr. Simpson’s attorney first raised the issue of a potential conflict.  One key piece of information that I have never seen reported is when Mr. Simpson and his attorney first became aware of this conflict.

I find it improbable that they first became aware of this potential conflict immediately after Judge Segars-Andrews issued her memo ruling.  If one assumes that they had been aware of this potential conflict prior to Judge Segars-Andrews issuing her ruling, a dangerous precedent is being set by the Judicial Merit Selection Commission’s actions.

Assume that an attorney or litigant is aware that a judge has a potential conflict.  That person could keep this information hidden until after the judge issues a ruling.  If the judge issues a favorable ruling, that potential conflict is never revealed.  If the judge issues an unfavorable ruling, the litigant or attorney then raises the conflict.  Even if the Judicial Merit Selection Commission ultimately finds Judge Segars-Andrews qualified, its recent actions are going to have a chilling effect on judges facing such an issue: they will uniformly recuse themselves.  Thus, because of the Judicial Merit Selection Commission’s actions, any litigant or attorney who becomes aware of a conflict is now better off failing to raise the conflict until and unless the ruling goes against them, while sandbagging the court and the opposing party.  This essentially allows litigants aware of potential conflicts to go to trial with the ability to capitalize on a favorable result but have the judge immediately recuse him or herself if the result in unfavorable.  Such system-gaming is unjust and inefficient but is the practical result of the Judicial Screening Committee’s actions.  Given this concern, I am unclear as to why Judge Segars-Andrews even feels the need to publicly apologize for her decision to rule on the Simpson divorce.

There are a few family court judges whom I would not publicly support if the Judicial Merit Selection Commission determined them unqualified (though not nearly as many as I think were unqualified when I began practicing family law sixteen years ago); Judge Segars-Andrews isn’t one of those judges.  While I have sometime disagreed with her rulings, I have never believed her rulings to be based on anything other than her honest views regarding the law and the facts.  Further, she is one of the family court judges most committed to the improvement of justice.  It sets a very dangerous precedent for the Judicial Merit Selection Commission to challenge her credentials for the reason it is doing so.

Put Mr. Forman’s experience, knowledge, and dedication to your service for any of your South Carolina family law needs.

Retain Mr. Forman
  • Warren Moise

    Well put.

  • Michele Patrao Forsythe

    I agree

  • Anonymous Litigant

    I think you have talked around the issue, but you are not focusing on the most important point. The responsibility does not fall upon the Litigant or the Attorney to keep the proceedings impartial, but it is the responsibility of the Judge. Sandbagging aside, Segars-Andrews had a responsibility to recuse herself from a conflicted situation and she chose to rule regardless. “Unqualified” sums up the act, but you have to ask yourself if a 16 year Judge was motivated by over confidence in her authority or a subconscious wish to be removed. For whatever reason, Segars-Andrews chose to ignore this “conflict of interest” and will need to face the consequences. Scapegoat – maybe; a crack in the armor of a badly conflicted and inefficient system – definitely.

    • Anonymous Litigant: Think of it from Ms. Simpson’s perspective: she’s won at trial with a judge who is unaware of the conflict. Now her husband, who may have been aware of the conflict all along, raises the conflict issue and demands a new trial before a new judge. Is the injustice greater to Mr. Simpson because a judge who was unaware of a conflict when she issued her decision (because Mr. Simpson sandbagged everyone) formalizes her decision into an order or to Ms. Simpson if the judge now recuses herself?

      If Mr. Simpson was unaware of the conflict at the time of trial, it’s a close call whether Judge Segars-Andrews should have recused herself given that she has already issued a memo ruling when she became aware of the conflict (and getting a close call wrong is not a reason to defrock a judge). However, if Mr. Simpson was aware of the conflict but simply sitting on the information in case he received a favorable ruling, the call isn’t even close.

  • Anonymous Litigant

    The Post and Courier article you referenced in your blog states that In 2006, Simpson heard Segars-Andrews note that her husband’s law firm had shared in a large personal-injury settlement with the lawyer who was representing his ex-wife. She recognized the appearance of a conflict in court, telling the lawyers, “You all need to find another judge.”

    But after receiving an affidavit from Nathan M. Crystal, who also has taught judicial ethics at the University of South Carolina School of Law, she changed her mind. Crystal wrote that she did not violate her duty to disclose the alleged conflict because she didn’t know about it when the case began.

    I do not know how the affidavit from Mr. Crystal was introduced to the case, but the Post and Courier’s depiction of facts inidcates that there was a point at which Judge Segars-Andrews recognized the conflict before she ruled on the case. Is that not a correct assumption? If it is, I think she made a very poor personal choice.

  • Greg,

    Thank you for writing so intelligently on what many of us have been thinking but too stunned to say over the last few weeks. It is a shame that a judge who has given so willingly to our justice system and our community can be derailed so easily and so inexplicably. I know how difficult it is to be a judge and public servant as I clerked for one for an entire year. It is a job of constant giving of your time and talents with little thanks from anyone. I strongly encourage you to send this article to the op/ed page of the Post and Courier.

  • Paul D. SChwartz

    Greg, you have done an excellent job at this putting this in the proper perspective and I believe your comments above should be published in the Post Courier. What everyone is stepping around is that the case in 2006 is not really what this is and was all about, but merely a vehicle used by those behind this. This is a much more flagrant attempt to chill and influence judicial decisons by others. Persons disatisfied with legitimate, unbiased (as always) and well thought out decisions by this judge decided years ago to go about unseating her. Hopefully all of this will be coming out very soon.

    Think of that, a person disatisfied or well connected gets the message to a sitting judge, if you do not rule this was, etc. The other effect would be judges who learn someone is well connected recuses him or her self and then one cannot seek the halls of justice to take on those “well connected”. Does not sound like the Americe I know. Also speaks volumes about the continued need to the trial by jury, 7th amendment that sometimes come up for abolishment.

  • Conrad Falkiewicz

    Greg,

    I, of course, agree with your final acessment of the situation with the Judical Merit Selection Commission. I would like to sidenote
    some things.
    First, Dusty’s comments are only “accurate” if one believes that doing the right thing has to have a price. We all recognize that wrongdoing very often carries no penalty,…why do we decide that doing the right thing always has to take courage or require a price to be paid? Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.

    Second, right now this commission is insulated from any consequences of their decision. I believe that this should be short lived. I have practiced for thirty years. Most of my past clients believe me and value my opinion because I always spoke to them honestly. When the next election cycle comes around, I plan on speaking to my thirty year client base and urging them to vote based on this overreaching exercise of power by a few, overly powerful local politicans. I suggest every attorney should do the same.

    As to “anonymous litigant”, your final comment that Judge Segar-Andrews made a “poor personal choice” is correct, she choose to do her duty in the face of an obvious attempt to manipulate the legal system by intimidation. Judges in this state do not have the luxury of hearing cases that always have no connection to them, many times in the smaller counties litigants are related to the judges or are their neighbors, the attorneys are former friends or foes. Judges are required to ignore such ties and proceed if they are able to do so without prejudice, otherwise our system grinds to a halt. Not every connection is a “conflict”. Judge Segars-Andrews was and is always above any influence. Her decision in the undrlying case at hand was well reasoned and was affirmed by the appellate court. Her determination to let her decision stand and not recuse herself was made at risk to herself. In this instance doing the right thing did carry a price.

  • It’s the games that should be regulated, not the Judge.

  • Dusty Rhoades

    I just came across this blog on Dec. 23rd while searching for something else. Every one still misses the point of my comments. It may be because the reporter didn’t report all that I said. I was trying to point out that I never see attorneys publicly taking negative positions about particular judicial selections. They only speak out when it is in favor of a judge and conveniently never have any public comments regarding judicial selections. Where were all these brave protectors of judicial selection in the past? I sure don’t remember seeing any of them when I was involved with one that I ended up testifying about in the senate chamber. I did hear alot of private agreement from many attorneys, as to my position. None of the attorneys though were willing to state their positions publically because they were afraid of judicial retribution. Becoming a judge in South Carolina has always been primarily or solely based on political support and merit of the selection rarely, if ever, has anything to do with the selection using the election process through legislative votes. Where were all the attoneys who so much are concerned with good judge selections when the panel in 1996 found legislator Huff unqualified, but went on to be elected to the Ct. of Appeals by the legislature anyway? That is one or two of many examples that illustrate my point that as a general rule practicing attorneys take only public positions, regarding a judge, that won’t cause the attorney to have to worry about judicial retribution. My comments, as quoted in the newspaper were not specific as to this particular dispute but as to my opinion and statment of the obvious, that almost no attorneys are willing to do anything but take the safe approach publicly. It has been my experience over my 27 year career, that no attorney is likely to do otherwise. Segars-Andrew, based on my experience, seems to be a decent person and who obtained political support to get elected to the post. I about choked when I read the comments of some of the attorneys quoted as being of the opinion she was the best or one of the best judges in the state, when some of those same individuals voiced opinions of something far less and moderate in private. I’ve had many cases before her over the years. I, personally, have found her to be no better or worse than judges are overall. She has certainly tried to make improvements with drug court, to her credit. She has also made a number of substantial errors which I and others have appealed successfully. Politics has,is, and will continue to affect and even control all judicial selections and stating otherwise is a naive or false representation of the selection process. I would hope no attorney would state with a straight face, that only the best candidates are always chosen in the political election process by the legislature. Until the process changes, no candidate for a judicial position will obtain the position without the political support, regardless of the merits, or lack of such, of any candidate for a judgeship. Public statements by attoneys regarding sitting judges aren’t going to change either and rest assurred thay will not reflect any realistic chance of actual courage, based on that nagging fear of judicial retribution. Everyone, have a good holiday in the meantime. Judicial politics will continue anyway.

  • Dusty,

    To respond to your comment, I don’t dispute that attorneys are afraid to attack sitting judges. What should one expect? Unless a large group of attorneys decided to fight the reelection of a particular judge, it would be professional suicide to attack a sitting judge as to attack the judge without defrocking him or her just leaves a potentially vengeful judge on the bench. Even a successful attack on a sitting judge will probably engender ill will from all other sitting judges. There have been occasions in which I have privately criticized a judge and other judges seems to have learned about it, so I suspect they treat an attack on one as an attack against all. Further, with the judge whose reelection you challenged, my understanding is that she filed an ultimately-dismissed grievance against you first, so your fighting her reelection was relatively less risky as her opinion of you was already negative.

    Further, I wouldn’t deny that some attorneys may be publicly supporting Judge Segars-Andrews who might not particularly think well of her–not that I have seen as evidence of this–as vocal public support makes the supporting attorney look good to all the family court judges.

    However, I believe the bar’s support for Judge Segars-Andrews is genuine for a number of reasons. First, if, as most suspect, the motivation for the attack on her is political, then the judge who is likely to replace her is not being selected on merits but on political considerations. Further, while there are family court judges who might have a better handle on substantive, procedural or evidentiary law, none exceed her in courtesy or commitment to the improvement of family law. As I have developed my practice, I’ve come to have greater regard for a judge who is active in improving the law and courteous to me and my clients, even if other judges might know the law better. I simply don’t believe her replacement will be an improvement and think that it sets a bad precedent to remove this judge for this reason.

    If I didn’t support her reelection, I would remain silent.

  • Dusty Rhoades

    Greg, Your last line is exactly the approach that I’ve been talking about. Based on what you stated, it is obvious that you aren’t aware of a number of details that have not been made public or even widely known to attorneys generally. If you knew those details, I’m sure you would draw different conclusions. I won’t state them here. Call me sometime and I’ll be glad to go down the list. One detail I will point out to you here, is that immediately following the judge’s vague complaint filed by her, she received a far more specific documented complaint against her, made by me. Despite what I am fairly certain attorneys assume and conclude is that I have come out damaged from some or all of my disputes that became public, in fact, I have been successful and certainly not damaged. It has never been important to me to make those results and points public, but instead to let adversaries save face and conclude the matter ultimately successful. I can assure you that as long as you are over prepared, sincere, and never “blink” , the successful result is always very attainable. It is also important not to publicly gloat or fail to allow the adversary to save face publicly, which would include some allowance of the adversary’s sometimes false public representaions of the final result. For what it is worth, I have never suffered any retribution at all. Retribution might be the result if complete preparation(and I do mean “complete”), sincerity of approach, and never “blinking” are lacking. Most attorneys, politicians/judges have no realistic understanding how many punches I can take and how exhaustive my preparation is for these fights. I wish more attorneys would take a similar approach to the really hard work to try and improve the process, including not always backing down to a judicial bully. Unfortunately, I am fairly certain that the vast majority of attorneys will always take the “Dick Cheney Chicken Hawk” approach when the situation calls them to act….find something else to do and seek deferments/excuses for having to take action,hide or disappear when attack/harm potential exists, and, ultimately, send or defer to others to deal with it. Call me if you want to know the details I referred to above that I’m sure you aren’t aware of. Dusty

  • Greg: Segars-Andrews served as vice chair of the judicial conduct committee- her vindication is is… suspect. Nathan M. Crystal was a paid expert witness, S-A’s reinstated her self as judge w-o allowing Simpson’s attorney to reply with an affidavit of their own. That said; Toal et al ruling will be interesting.

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