Solicitor John Justice recognized for role in legislation

More than two years after his death, John Justice has added another highlight to a storied legal career.

Justice, the longtime solicitor in Chester, Lancaster and Fairfield counties, championed an effort to help young public attorneys pay student loans that piled up during college.

His advocacy succeeded when President Bush signed into law a program aimed at doing that. Named the John R. Justice Prosecutors and Public Defenders Act, the measure lets government lawyers apply for forgiveness from federal Perkins and Stafford loans.

The Justice family and at least nine of South Carolina's 16 solicitors attended a ceremony at the National Advocacy Center in Columbia on Monday recognizing Justice's role in the legislation.

"This is something he wanted to happen for years," said Justice's daughter, Dolly, a prosecutor in Richland County. "He saw his prosecutors bring their lunches every day (and) struggle to make ends meet. He saw the burden it was putting on me."

It's a fitting coda for Justice, whose skills as a courtroom orator made him a legend far beyond his Chester County home. Justice died of heart failure in 2006 after serving as 6th Circuit solicitor for nearly three decades, the second-longest tenure in the state. He was 63.

Justice used almost no notes during trials that often would last a week or longer, instead relying on a booming, gravely voice that listeners said resembled a low roar.

Outside the courtroom, Justice fought for causes that were important to the legal community. Over the years, he came across young lawyers who could not afford to stay at small-town prosecutor or public defender offices because the relatively low pay made it difficult to pay off their loans.

"They would stay long enough to learn how to practice law, then leave to make more money so they could handle these loan payments," said current 6th Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield. "John recognized that. It was just real important for him to try to get some relief for these folks."

Congress still must set aside money to pay for the student loan forgiveness program. Supporters hope lawmakers take action in the next session.

"He saw it as a way to retain people," said assistant solicitor Chris Taylor, who worked alongside Justice for four years. "It's terrible he wasn't here to see it. If it hadn't been for him, I don't think it would've gotten this far."