Solicitor hopefuls face off

Debate at times both contentious and respectful
By Schuyler Kropf
The Post and Courier
Tuesday, May 13, 2008

They dueled over crime statistics and jabbed over why Scarlett Wilson forced Blair Jennings to leave his job with the Berkeley prosecutor's office.

But they also said that after the election they'd consider hiring their opponent back on staff as a prosecutor, saying they respected each other's courtroom skills.

Ninth Circuit Solicitor candidates Blair Jennings and Scarlett Wilson shake hands Monday after their debate moderated by WCSC-TV anchor Bill Sharpe (left) at North Charleston City Hall.

Monday's debate between the Republican candidates for 9th Circuit solicitor showed that both are for law and order but they have different ideas on how to achieve it.

The forum at North Charleston City Hall began on a confrontational note with Wilson saying she was forced last year to ask Jennings to either resign or be fired as deputy solicitor in Berkeley County.

Gov. Mark Sanford had recently named Wilson solicitor for Charleston and Berkeley counties after Ralph Hoisington died of pancreatic cancer. She said Jennings spoke to the press against her orders and wasn't supportive of her new administration. She also said the Berkeley Family Court "was in a shambles" under Jennings' time as deputy.

Jennings, who touted his record of more than 60 homicide cases prosecuted during his career, responded that her move to oust him clearly "was a political decision" as both were eyeing the job of top prosecutor in the Lowcountry.

Jennings also told the crowd, which numbered more than 100 Charleston County Republicans, that he wanted to create a violent crime task force for the circuit and to aggressively work to help deport illegal aliens who commit crimes here.

"We cannot allow it to become a sanctuary city," he said.

Wilson countered that all the circuit's prosecutors are involved in going after violent criminals and said that, although she also advocates prosecuting illegal immigrants who commit crimes, implying the Solicitor's Office is a cure for illegal immigration gives a false hope.

The prosecution of several Wando High School students charged in a Mount Pleasant armed robbery case also surfaced as a topic. Wilson was asked whether the youths should have gotten a second chance. Two of the teens, ages 16 and 17 at the time of the 2006 crimes, were sentenced to 10 years in prison for two counts of armed robbery as part of a plea deal she offered.

Wilson said that, based on the case facts, the applicable law and how Hoisington had assessed the case before he died, "I am completely comfortable with the decision I made."

Jennings was pressed to give his view of the Wando case but said he couldn't answer a question about it because he wasn't connected to it and didn't know the particulars.

Both also backed Attorney General Henry McMaster's effort to do away with parole, saying crime victims are finding out that the sentences given to their attackers don't translate to the actual time most criminals will serve behind bars.

"No one knows how much time a prisoner is going to do," Jennings said of the current system of release.

There were some moments of levity during the night. During one exchange, moderator and TV anchorman Bill Sharpe asked the candidates whether either of them carried a concealed weapon. Jennings said he didn't. Wilson responded only that she has a gun. She didn't let on much more about it.

"That's for me to know and ..." she said to a mix of applause and laughter.

The two candidates will square off in the GOP primary on June 10. No Democrat filed, so the winner of the primary is virtually assured the seat in November.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 937-5551.