April 17, 2014

High court says SC must enforce Certificate of Need


Haley and DHEC Director Catherine Templeton oppose CON program.

The South Carolina Supreme Court disagreed with the governor and upheld the state’s certificate of need law. The 1971 statute requires that hospitals and other care providers must prove to the Department of Health and Environmental Control  the need to expand or build facilities

In a line-item budget veto last year, Gov. Nikki Haley stopped CON funding, thus DHEC stopped its enforcement. In a 4-1 ruling,  state’s high court said that DHEC is required to fund the CON program, regardless of the 2013–2014 Appropriations Act’s failure to appropriate funding for the program.

Gov. Haley opposes the program as government meddling in the free market. The House agreed and sustained her veto in the final budget last year.

But that left hospitals and health care facilities uncertain about how to proceed, which led to the lawsuit.

The Supreme Court said in its decision: “We have held that the permanent law mandating the CON program was not affected by House of Representatives’ decision to sustain Veto 20. Under the CON Act, DHEC’s responsibility to administer the CON Act is not discretionary, and thus, DHEC must comply with the CON Act—a duty that inevitably encompasses funding the CON program.”

According to the Island Packet newspaper, DHEC plans to file a motion for reconsideration with the SC Supreme Court.

A spokesman for Gov. Nikki Haley, Doug Mayer, released this statement today:

“The Certificate of Need program is outdated and bad public policy, which is why the governor vetoed it and the House voted to support her decision. Governor Haley is determined and will continue working with like-minded legislators to reform a clearly politically driven process that puts additional bureaucracy between South Carolinians and their health care decisions.”


U.S. Attorney General visits Charleston to honor late judge

A statue was dedicated in Charleston Friday in honor of late Judge Waties Waring. Considered an icon of the civil rights movement, Waring was the first federal judge to write an opinion challenging the separate but equal policy. On hand for the ceremony was U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Also attending the ceremony was S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal and former governor and U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings.

Attorney Gen. Eric Holder (file photo)

Attorney Gen. Eric Holder (file photo)

While in the port city, Holder visited a graduation ceremony for a highly successful drug program in Charleston. The visit to the ceremony comes a day after the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to reduce federal sentencing guidelines for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. Holder has been a big proponent of the lowered sentences. In his remarks, Holder addressed how the Bridge program in Charleston aligns with the Justice Department’s “Smart on Crime” program focusing on treatment and prevention as an alternative to jail time.



Springdale police: There was no police impersonator-rapist

Police in the town of Springdale say the “victim” made up a story that she had been raped by a man in police garb who used a blue light on his dashboard to pull her over.

Investigators say she contrived the description that was used in this sketch:sketch

Read more on the case

The woman’s claim in October 2013 led to months of investigation and unease for residents in the Lexington County town near the Columbia Metropolitan Airport.

Police Chief Kevin Cornett announced the turn in the case in a press conference Thursday.  He said officers were not able to find any evidence in the case.

Cornett said his investigators confronted the woman Thursday morning with their conclusion. He said she did not deny it but walked out of the interview, refusing to talk any more.

“We wanted to let the community know because they are the ones who lived in fear… this was the number one question at community meetings, the number one reason why we had an increase in questions on concealed weapons permits. We wanted to give the community some type of closure,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.

How his department will handle the case from here depends on the woman who made the claim, Cornett said.

“We’d love to know a motive,” Cornett said,”Before we put anybody in jail, we want to make sure we are helping them if they need help.”


Justice Toal addresses criminal case backlog

SC Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal (File)

SC Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal (File)

“Judges serve important roles as problem solvers,” in a changing court system, South Carolina’s Chief Justice Jean Toal told lawmakers in her “State of the Courts” address.

Not an easy task when the average caseload per judge here is still the highest in the nation with almost 4,500 filings per judge per year.

Toal thanked the General Assembly for allowing her to create and pay for new judges while the Judicial department tries creative ways to resolve criminal case backlogs.

She concentrated comments on those overcrowded dockets, a concern of legislators as they considered her reelection as top judge this session.

“A lot of defendants are held in pre-trial detention instead of moving the cases through the system. The average cost per day is almost $60.00 to detain someone in a county facility. And some counties have reported that they have spent over $100,000 on just one defendant because the case was delayed so many years from being tried, “said Toal.

Toal’s department has created teams of judges and prosecutors focused on the older cases clogged in the system.

“And we set our sights on anything that was more than a year and a half old and passed an order that required the solicitors to survey their book of business and reconcile their records with the clerk’s records and with the public defender’s records and come up with a real honest list of everything that’s over a year and a half old by case name, by the lawyers involved, by the charges made, so that we could really get a handle on these old cases.” Toal said.

“But the truth of the matter is that control of the criminal docket is really a collaborative effort between the judges, the solicitors, the circuit public defenders, and the clerks of court.”


Former corrections officer goes to prison for assault on detainee

A former South Carolina corrections officer has been sentenced to 24 months in federal prison for assaulting a mentally ill detainee.

Robin Smith, 38, a former Richland County corrections officer at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Columbia, previously pleaded guilty to violating the detainee’s civil rights.

According to case records, on Feb. 11, 2012,Smith used unreasonable, unprovoked force against an inmate with mental illness.  During the course of a routine search of the victim’s cell, Smith twisted the victim’s wrist and arm and kicked him in the upper body.  During the assault, the victim was lying on the floor of the cell with one hand cuffed, was not combative and posed no threat to Smith.

“What Robin Smith did was wrong,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina Bill Nettles said in a statement. “At the base level, Mr. Smith kicked a man around who was so mentally ill he could not understand or follow the directions Smith was giving him.  No just society can allow that kind of conduct on the part of a corrections officer to go unpunished.”