Lawyer-Legislator Protection During the Legislative Session
This order rescinds the order of August 4, 2021 that provided protection for lawyer-legislators participating in public hearings and meetings related to redistricting and committee meetings on the American Rescue Plan Act. The order also supersedes a May 19, 2017 order with regard to lawyer-legislator protection during the legislative session generally.
The Supreme Court of South Carolina
RE: Lawyer-Legislator Protection During the Legislative Session
By Administrative Order dated May 19, 2017, lawyers who are members of the General Assembly were granted absolute protection from being called to a deposition, trial, or hearing in any court of this State or any administrative tribunal of this State during regular and special or called sessions. In a subsequent Administrative Order dated August 4, 2021, this protection was extended for lawyer-legislators holding hearings and committee meetings related to the adoption of redistricting plans or maps to redraw South Carolina congressional and state districts, and for those lawyer-legislators holding public committee meetings on the American Rescue Plan Act.
Based on the substantial completion of the redistricting process and the apparent conclusion of hearings regarding the distribution of funds under the American Rescue Plan Act, the August 4, 2021 Administrative Order is hereby rescinded effective immediately.
Further, the May 19, 2017 Administrative Order contains a provision stating that the order "will be continuously monitored for compliance and any necessary adjustments." I find an adjustment to that order is necessary, which is set forth below.
I find that lawyers who serve as members of the General Assembly provide a great service to the citizens of this State and, at times, are unable to appear for trials, hearings, or depositions during the legislative session. I further find that these lawyer-legislators are often threatened with sanctions for their inability to appear when requested.
I further find that the uncertainty of the availability of lawyer-legislators is disruptive to the orderly and efficient use of court time and resources. I further find that the inflexible insistence that lawyer-legislators be available whenever the court or lawyers request their presence is not only detrimental to the clients of the lawyer-legislators but also creates unnecessary angst for all concerned.
Therefore, IT IS ORDERED that, except in those limited categories of matters set forth below, lawyers who are members of the General Assembly are granted absolute protection from being called to a deposition, or a trial or hearing in any court of this State or any administrative tribunal of this State from the first Tuesday in January until July 31. This protection extends to those times when the General Assembly votes on vetoes of the General Appropriation bill. Further, lawyer-legislators are similarly protected during any special or called session after the regular session ends. Hearings, trials, or depositions may be scheduled during these time periods if the lawyer-legislator consents to the hearing, deposition, or trial being set and is given proper notice. A decision to waive protection to appear at a particular hearing shall not be interpreted as a general waiver of the absolute protection granted herein for that case or any cases or hearings.
This protection does not apply in the following circumstances:
(1) Any general sessions matter called for trial that is greater than three years' old, measured from the date of the indictment(s);
(2) Any summary court criminal matter called for trial that is greater than eighteen months' old, measured from the date of filing;
(3) In bond revocation matters; and
(4) In any emergency family court hearings involving children.
This matter will be continuously monitored for compliance and any necessary adjustments.
This order supersedes the May 19, 2017 Administrative order, takes effect immediately, and remains in effect unless amended or rescinded by the Chief Justice.
s/Donald W. Beatty
Donald W. Beatty
Chief Justice of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina
January 11, 2022