If the discipline system for South Carolina attorneys needs to be revised, that can occur within the existing framework. Turning that system over to a commission controlled by the Legislature would be a mistake.
A pair of bills introduced last week would create a 13-member commission under the control of the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation that would oversee the licensing and discipline of lawyers. That department is part of the executive branch.
Because the state constitution gives attorney oversight authority to the state Supreme Court, the change would require a constitutional amendment. South Carolina would be the only state in the nation to adopt such a system.
This proposal may have resulted in part from a controversial decision by the Supreme Court in July to allow 20 people who flunked the state bar exam to pass. Chief Justice Jean Toal said at the time the decision was based on scoring errors in one section of the test.
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Toal asserted last week during her annual State of the Judiciary speech that the court was faced with three "pretty unpalatable choices," one of which almost certainly would have resulted in a lawsuit. She added that the court was motivated solely by a sense of fairness.
Under any circumstances, one incident does not justify a complete overhaul of the attorney oversight system in the state. The current system generally has worked well -- not only in South Carolina but also across the nation.
Transferring oversight powers to the Legislature or a cabinet-level agency would invite partisanship and legislative interference. This change is unnecessary.