20 years ago, senator's daughter benefited from grade change

COLUMBIA -- History has an odd way of repeating itself.

At 2-30 p.m. today in Columbia, more than 400 new lawyers will be sworn in as new members of the S.C. Bar.

The 448 new lawyers will include 20 people whose grades the high court changed Friday to pass from fail without much explanation.

Twenty years ago, a powerful state official whose daughter had flunked the S.C. Bar exam contacted the Supreme Court and managed to get her grade changed to pass.

Today's 20 new lawyers whose grades were changed to pass include the daughters of two prominent state officials state Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Richland, and Circuit Judge Paul Burch. Both men contacted either the Supreme Court or the Board of Law Examiners after learning their daughters had failed.

In 1987, it was then-Sen. Ed Saleeby's daughter, Holly Saleeby, who flunked the bar. His complaint brought about a prompt re-grading that reversed her grade.

Saleeby's quick swearing-in meant she avoided taking the grueling three-day exam again.

Catherine Harrison, daughter of Jim Harrison, the chairman of the influential House Judiciary Committee, and Kendall Burch, daughter of Circuit Judge Paul Burch, are among the 20 who originally failed last July's bar exam. They can avoid re- taking the bar exam.

Another similarity between 2007 and 1987 is that Holly Saleeby was the law clerk of a circuit judge. Catherine Harrison and Kendall Burch are law clerks of circuit judges.

Despite the parallels, there are two key differences.

In 1987, then-Chief Justice "Bubba" Ness, now deceased, agreed to speak to the press and public to explain how he came to order that Saleeby's failing bar test should be regraded, according to The State newspaper's files.

Current Chief Justice Jean Toal won't explain why Harrison, Burch and the other 18 failing examinees had their scores adjusted to pass, beyond a terse order published on the Supreme Court Web site Friday announcing the grade changes. It said a "scoring error" was responsible for the grade change but gave no details.

Another difference is that in 1987, there were no written rules in place concerning appeals of failing bar exam scores.

This year, although the Supreme Court has a firm rule disallowing appeals, it apparently disregarded that rule in changing the scores of the 20 examinees.