COLUMBIA — The Republican Governors Association released a second round of television ads Monday attacking state Sen. Vincent Sheheen for his previous work as a defense attorney, despite widespread criticism from lawyers in both parties who call that line of attack un-American.
The latest ad follows last week’s unprecedented move by the nonpartisan South Carolina Bar, to which every attorney in the state belongs, to launch a Web site defending the legal profession. The American Bar Association then joined in Friday with a letter asking the RGA and its chairman, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, to reject what it says sends a disturbing message about the American system of justice.
A lawyer’s representation of a client is not an endorsement of what they say or do. The constitutional right to representation “is what distinguishes us from our darker history, when mobs decided guilt or innocence and punished those they deemed guilty,” wrote James Silkenat, the president of the Illinois-based bar association.
Others condemning the ads include former South Carolina Republican Attorney General Charlie Condon, who called the ads’ continuation very disappointing. The two-term attorney general reiterated Monday that Gov. Nikki Haley should ask for their removal.
“I just know she knows better. Any thinking person would know better,” said Condon, a self-described fan of Haley. “The basis of the ad is that an attorney who fulfills her or his obligation to someone accused of a crime is either unfit or less fit to hold public office, and I really think the reverse is true. We’ve got this Bill of Rights I’d hope we’d all cherish. It’s a core fundamental value all Americans share.”
Attorneys must ensure people’s Sixth Amendment rights are upheld, because “our system of government will not work if only one side’s represented,” said Condon, who now works as a defense lawyer after decades as a prosecutor. “To attack a fellow American for doing this is not right and really disappointing.”
Haley’s campaign spokesman notes her campaign is not funding the ads. Her ads discuss her record; what the RGA does is up to that group, Rob Godfrey said.
The ad is the RGA’s fifth toward Haley’s rematch with Sheheen this November. Neither faces a primary opponent. Haley is a member of the RGA’s executive committee.
RGA spokesman Jon Thompson said the latest ad was not a response to the criticism but was already scheduled to run.
“Voters have a right to know about Vincent Sheheen’s record,” he said.
“Sheheen claims to be tough on crime and violence toward women, but his past shows that is simply not true.”
The latest ad involves Sheheen, D-Camden, representing a then-18-year-old Camden man who pleaded guilty in 2000 to having sex with a girl between 14 and 16. The ad states “court papers show he negotiated the man’s sentence from 10 years to 38 days.”
Actually, court records signed by the presiding judge show the man’s sentence was suspended to 38 days’ time served, with five years’ probation, as well as 300 hours of public service and requirements that he obtain a GED; go to substance abuse, sex offender and anger management counseling; and be subjected to random drug and alcohol testing.
Sheheen’s campaign manager, Andrew Whalen, said the RGA’s choice to double down on the attack line despite the criticism is a sign of desperation.