SC Senate OKs Magistrates; Pitts in Laurens County
Pitts returns to government as a magistrate
In a surprise move, former State Rep. Mike Pitts has come out of retirement to be named a Laurens County Magistrate.
One published report has Pitts designated as the “Chief Magistrate,” the leader of five magistrate authorized for Laurens County.
He and about 20 others statewide were confirmed by the SC Senate last Tuesday, a special day back for the SC General Assembly to consider Gov. Henry McMaster’s budget vetoes. There were no objections or discussion about the magistrates’ appointment list.
That came later.
Laurens County needs magistrates. Chief Magistrate Leesa Inabinet died May 31. Removed Magistrate Mareno Cyrus Foggie was arrested in July 18 on an Abbeville County drug charge. Former Chief Magistrate Thomas Copeland has reached the state-mandated retirement ago of 72; he was recognized last Tuesday by the county council (photos inside).
Pitts said even though he does not have a law degree, he is suited for the job with law enforcement experience.
“Thank you to Sen. Danny Verdin for the nomination, to Gov. Henry McMaster for the appointment, and to the SC Senate for the vote of confirmation without a single objection or dissenting vote even from Sen. Dick Harpootlian. It is indeed an honor and privilege to be able to continue to be useful and of service to the people of Laurens County.”
Harpootlian, a Columbia activist and attorney, said, “I think the political cronyism that would take someone who was not found fit for one state job and give them a magistrate judge as a consolation prize is wrong and the people of Laurens County should not be happy about it. Apparently, the political establishment is hell bent on giving Mike Pitts a government job. I remember the days when Republicans didn’t think they should use state money to reward their political friends. It’s just amazing to me. Those are our tax dollars being given to a guy who used to be a state legislator.”
The governor acted on the recommendation of the Laurens County legislative delegation. Pitts served SC House District 14 (Laurens-Greenwood) from 2002 until January 2019. He won re-election, and then resigned. He applied for and was named director of the SC Conservation Bank; he withdrew during the confirmation process citing the stress of being questioned as detrimental to his health. Harpootlian led the questioning of the credentials of Pitts, a hunter and gun-supporter who objected to former Gov. Nikki Haley’s insistence that the Confederate Flag come down from atop the SC Statehouse, to direct a conservation agency. A conservation expert eventually was named to the position.
One of Pitts’ final pieces of legislation would have required the consolidation of School Districts 56 and 55. It passed the House and stalled in the Senate, amid of firestorm of local objections.
Pitts’ House seat was won by fellow Republican Stewart Jones. The Laurens County Council seat held by Jones will be filled by one of two Republican candidates.
When it looked like Pitts was going to retire, he was honored with a resolution of appreciation by the county council. The council has nothing to do with the appointment of magistrates, but funds office space for magistrates in the Hillcrest Square Center. The Magistrates’ Office there recently has been renovated, at county expense.
McMaster bestowed upon Pitts The Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian honor, following his retirement.
Now, Pitts is back, embarking on a new chapter of Laurens County service.
A report said that SC magistrates are not required to hold a law degree, but they must have at least a four-year degree. Pitts graduated from Lander University in 1985.
Pitts told the Greenwood Index-Journal, “I told (Congressman) Jeff Duncan that I guess I was honorable again. I have applied for jobs in several different locations in private industry and other places. I’m not ready to retire and I’m either too old, too experienced or too hot a potato. Greenville was having to send judges down here and it left our delegation on this side in a pretty tight spot. Laurens was in a very difficult situation. The bottom line is, this is a job I’m well qualified for and if Harpootlian wants to say it’s a consolation prize that’s his view. Mine is that it’s an ability to serve the people of Laurens County. You don’t have to be an attorney to be a magistrate judge just like you don’t have to have common sense to be in the Senate.”
Pitts posted on Facebook last Wednesday that he will remain neutral in political issues. His statement said, “As a statesman I have seldom kept my opinions to myself and often take controversial stands but as a member of the Judicial Branch there is a different set of rules. Lady Justice is blindfolded for a reason. Our constitution demands unbiased balance of scales of justice and codes require me to stay neutral in politics therefore in the future you will see far less of me on social media, if at all. To my friends I’m still just a text, message or call away.”
Prior to that message, he commented on veterans’ suicides, Iran’s preparation for war with the U.S., and what he would look like as a dog.
Magistrates’ pay is between $50,000 and $100,000/annual. The Conservation Bank job Pitts sought pays $115,000/annual.
A report said Verdin nominated Pitts on June 7, and McMaster confirmed the appointment June 17. There was no public announcement about either action.
(Original reporting for this article by the Index-Journal, Greenwood, and the Post & Courier, Charleston.)