The Honorable Frances P. Segars-Andrews: An Appreciation

Posted Friday, June 18th, 2010 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Miscellaneous, Of Interest to General Public, South Carolina Specific

The Honorable F.P. Segars-Andrews leaves the family court bench soon.  To read some comments on the internet there were a number of litigants extremely angered by her decisions.  Over the years I have had more than one client greatly upset by one of her rulings.  Yet I have always defended her to my clients and continue to hold her in the highest regard.  A public appreciation is in order.

Judge Segars-Andrews was appointed to the family court bench in 1993, the same year I opened my practice.  Thus her time as a judge has paralleled my time as a family law attorney.  Over the years my appreciation for her has grown immensely. There are two reasons for this.  First, my views of what qualities are important in a judge have changed over the years, and her strengths as a judge align with areas I value more highly while her weaknesses as a judge are in areas I value less.  Second, I have been a first-hand witness to the personal qualities she brought to her role as judge and she personifies public service and religious faith in their best light.

If you had asked me in my early years of practicing family law what qualities one needs to be a great judge, I would have ranked them: 1) integrity; 2) legal knowledge; 3) experience; and 4) judicial temperament.  If you asked me today, after seventeen years of practice, I would rank them: 1) integrity; 2) judicial temperament; 3) legal knowledge; and 4) experience.  One almost has to rank integrity as the most important quality in a judge.  The system cannot tolerate judges who take bribes or show favoritism.  That’s the reason the Judicial Merit Selection Commission attacked Judge Segars-Andrews’ integrity in seeking to defrock her [I have seen no evidence that would justify their determination].  In my early years I valued legal knowledge just below integrity and, on that factor, I would simply note that Judge Segars-Andrews and I have not seen eye-to-eye on many legal issues, and that I have had some success with the appellate court regarding her decisions.  However temperament is vastly more important to being a judge than I realized when I first started my practice.  And Judge Segars-Andrews is the model of judicial temperament.

Our culture sometimes forgets that “trial by law” isn’t something that emerged full-blown when humans left the African savannah.  For much of our history disputes have been resolved through “trial by combat” or “trial by ordeal.” We tend to think that dispute resolution through trial by law is superior and lawyers, being invested in a system of law, tend to hold that belief even more strongly.  But there is nothing inherent in a courtroom that makes it a superior venue to resolve disputes over an arena of combat.

What makes the courtroom the superior venue is that, in a courtroom, everyone is supposed to be treated with dignity and their viewpoints are entitled to respect, even if their viewpoints are ultimately rejected.  When the law starts treating some people with more dignity than others (for example, contrast the law’s current discourteous treatment of criminal defendants with its solicitous treatment of crime victims) the respect we expect citizens to have for the law breaks down.  One reason we treat civil rights leaders of the 1950’s and 60’s as heroes rather than lawbreakers is that we recognize that the law had no right to expect fealty from those to whom it would not treat in a dignified manner.

When it comes to treating the people who appear in her courtroom with dignity, Judge Segars-Andrews was simply without peer.  While I have seen her become exasperated with folks appearing before her, I cannot recall ever seeing her treat anyone in her courtroom with disrespect.  When I first started practicing there were a few judges whom one could almost expect to be uncivil at some point in any proceeding.  Even today there are some judges from whom I can expect, if the hearing or trial will be lengthy and contentious, a moment of officious incivility.  But not with Judge Segars-Andrews.  I walk into her courtroom with the certainty that the proceedings will be dignified and that everyone will be treated with courtesy.  Such an atmosphere makes the practice of law feel like a noble calling rather than a grind.

Among the personal qualities I have most appreciated is her efforts towards the betterment of the law.  Judge Segars-Andrews simply cared.  A friend of mine tells a story of a juvenile proceeding he had in front of her.  A troubled teenage boy had the opportunity to take part on a sailing crew to the Carribean over a winter break, with the hope that this experience would teach him teamwork, responsibility, and self-reliance.  His family was of limited means and had no money for the return flight.  No public agency or private charity had funds for the flight.  Judge Segars-Andrews reached into her own pocket to purchase this boy’s return ticket.

Knowing her as I do, I do not find this story surprising.  Like many elected South Carolina officials, Judge Segars-Andrews is open about the importance of faith to her life.  However, in the best religious tradition, she allows her actions to attest to her faith rather than relying solely upon proclamations of faith. My perception is that this faith is instrumental in her uniformly-dignified treatment of those who came before her.  My perception is also that this faith compels her to work for the law’s improvement.

Judge Segars-Andrews has always been generous with her time with young lawyers and prospective lawyers.  When I am mentoring attorneys or students considering a career in family law, she has always been my go-to person when I wished to expose my mentees to an acting family court judge.  She has been a frequent presenter at family law seminars I have organized.  She has been instrumental in implementing Charleston County’s drug court and the Abuse and Neglect mediations.

My experience as a volunteer mediator has been telling.  These mediations typically take place on Fridays with the last mediations scheduled to begin at 11:00 a.m.  The whole philosophy of mediation is to give litigants time to be heard and not pressure them into resolution; a rushed mediation vitiates the concept of mediation.  Thus, as a mediator, I try to avoid rushing or pressuring litigants and I will continue mediating so long as progress towards resolution is being made.

South Carolina judges do not have an afternoon docket scheduled on Fridays so, typically, they are free to begin their weekend when their morning docket is finished.  There has been more than one occasion in which I have been rushed doing these volunteer mediations because the judge wanted to begin his or her weekend.  While I completely understand this desire, I find such behavior unfathomable: I am doing volunteer work that is cutting into my weekend and a paid official in a respected position cannot be similarly patient? Judge Segars-Andrews has never once rushed me or made me feel under a time constraint while doing these Friday DSS mediations.  Her attitude reflected an ingrained understanding of the nexus between law and dignity.  She viewed our work (as judges, as lawyers, as mediators, as guardians) as helping people resolve conflicts that would otherwise be resolved in a less ennobling fashion.  She would never expect someone to rush that process for her convenience.

A closing war story: A few years ago, I was the guardian ad litem for a very young child born to a sixteen year old mother with severe mental and physical limitations.  Ultimately, the child was placed with her great aunt, which I considered a stable and loving placement.  However problems unrelated to the aunt arose and DSS, without my knowledge, took emergency custody of the child and placed the child in foster care.  At a probable cause hearing DSS (for reasons I cannot recall) believed there was a procedural problem with placing the child back with the aunt and suggested leaving the child in foster care until we could get back to court.  Judge Segars-Andrews was about to do this when I asked her if I could be heard.  While I try to stay unemotional in court, I had found the whole hearing very upsetting (because I had found my client a stable placement and this stable placement had been changed without my knowledge and then not been corrected due to procedural issues).  I cannot recall exactly what I told Judge Segars-Andrews but I know she heard how upset I was and how concerned I was that procedural problems were being allowed to keep a young child from a stable placement. I cannot even recall how she overcame the procedural problem. I only remember that she heard me, and that the child was back with her great aunt by the end of the day due to her resolution of the matter.  Not every judge would have taken the time to try to find such a resolution but I think that every day Judge Segars-Andrews was on the bench she remembered that these are often small children whose lives we are dealing with and it is vitally important to take the time to get it right and protect these children.

While I wish her the best in her future endeavors, I will miss practicing in front of Judge Segars-Andrews.

13 thoughts on The Honorable Frances P. Segars-Andrews: An Appreciation

  1. Anne Frances Bleecker says:

    Well done!

  2. Paul D. Schwartz says:

    Thank you for expressing how and why so many of us will miss Judge Segars-Andrews. You spoke for me especially when you write, ” I walk into her courtroom with the certainty that the proceedings will be dignified and that everyone will be treated with courtesy. Such an atmosphere makes the practice of law feel like a noble calling rather than a grind. ” I too will miss practicing in front of our judge.

  3. Sarah Sullivan says:

    Although it has been 5 years since I practiced in front of J. Segars-Andrews, I remember that when I moved to Charleston, I was so impressed with her as a judge and thought that if I could be more like her, I would be a better lawyer. She was a role model to women lawyers, young lawyers, and experienced lawyers alike. She was a trailblazer and losing her on the bench will be a great loss to the citizens of South Carolina.

  4. Rob Papa says:

    Greg, what in the heck does “fealty” mean? I have an idea but now I’ll have to look it up.

    As to the public proclamation of appreciation, I could not concur more with you (never thought I’d say that) that one always felt comforted that your client would receive a fair hearing with her and that no one would be belittled by her. What has happened “up the road” is so tragic and so politically motivated that the less I say the better.

    I will say to the bar that the last case I had with Charlie prior to her election to the bench was daunting. The only salvation was when I was able to make the call to her to tell her that the very strong alimony case that she had was “game over” when the P.I. trailed the paramour skulking up a couple golf fairways to sneak into her client’s home. I say this to forewarn those who have never had a case with her that you better bring your A game.

  5. Lilly Collette says:

    I personally know and can prove Segars-Andrews to be a fraud. You all comfort yourselves with your fantasies. I will continue in my moral obligation to speak out against frauds.

    1. Lilly,

      Though your comment will offend most of my readers, I am leaving it up because I do not wish to be a censor of readers who disagree with me. However, I would suggest you consider the following:

      You appear to value my judgment, as you have posted favorable comments on previous blogs and have quoted my blogs on other websites. Does it not occur to you that I, who have seventeen years experience practicing in front of this judge, might have a better understanding of her strengths and weaknesses than you and the other litigants who complain about her but have only limited experience with her?

      I would further ask you to consider that I have never claimed Judge Segars-Andrews to be an infallible judge; in fact, I believe my blog notes that I have had issues with her legal knowledge. I do this not to be rude or cruel but to prove that my high praise isn’t blind to her limitations in order to prove that this praise is a true portrait of a judge I consider to be excellent.

      …Excellent, but not perfect. Yes, Judge Segars-Andrews was not infallible. I actually have a friendly bet that I will have her reversed in a case I currently have on appeal (remember the name Dulaney). When I first started practicing I would get angry that a judge had made a mistake that cost my client. Now I am more tolerant of that and a lot less tolerant of judges who treat folks with a lack of dignity. Judge Segars-Andrews’ virtues became much clearer as I got older.

      I am sorry that you chose to see the feelings my peer have towards her as “fantasies” but would suggest that it is you and not my peer and I who fail to see her clearly.

      1. Mandy Moore says:

        Well said. Anyone who provides charity and assistance to those less fortunate is a person worthy of my admiration. I would definitely hold such a person in a very high regard.

        Charity – that is, the selfless voluntary giving by those who see the need in others – is one of the most admirable qualities an individual can have.

  6. Lilly Collette says:

    I will give due consideration to what you have said before I speak here again. What a shame that no consideration has ever been paid to any of the evidence I have supporting my position.

    1. Lilly,

      I want you to feel free to write what you believe. However when you call a judge a “fraud” or claim me and my peer are engaging in “fantasies” you are acting in a manner most uncivil and failing to treat others with dignity. A major point of this blog was the importance of treating everyone with dignity when they are resolving their disputes through the medium of the law. You will note that a cross-section of my colleagues share that view.

      You further write that it’s “a shame that no consideration has ever been paid to any of the evidence I have supporting my position.” You don’t mention that I took time to review the order you write about. I noted that the ruling in that order could be erroneous….but if an order is wrong the remedy is to appeal the decision, not claim that the judge who issued it is a fraud. An erroneous ruling isn’t evidence of fraud; it’s evidence that judges are imperfect. I can live with a system in which judges are imperfect because no human institution is going to be perfect.

      No one I know could match the standards you set for family court judges. I am certain you couldn’t live up to such standards. To remain so bitter over a possibly erroneous ruling from a 23 year old case is a sad way to go through life.

  7. Barry Knobel says:

    Greg, thank you for your eloquent words written in honor of my great friend, Charlie.

    I was proud, and will forever remain proud, to be her colleague.

  8. Lilly Collette says:

    Not all acts of civility are created equal. Given my history with Madame Andrews I assure you I was being far more civil than what could reasonably be expected. I am under no obligation to bestow dignities upon one who has no regard for the human rights and dignity of others. Her ability to play well with selective others does not impress me.

    The standards I expect any judge to adhere to are found in the Judicial Code of Conduct. I expect them to observe and follow the law and the rules of court. I am tolerant of those who fail to hit the mark through error as long as they admit and correct the error.

    My primary duties in any fraud are to—collect the evidence. I honor my duties and I stand by my word, the simple things that make life worth living.

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