In a decision decried by some observers as supporting a political regime that threatens judicial independence, the top court in South Carolina has upheld a legislative screening panel's determination booting a seasoned judge from the bench. It found a 16-year family court veteran unqualified to continue to serve as a judge because she failed to recuse herself in a single divorce case.

That means 9th Circuit Family Court Judge F.P. "Charlie" Segars-Andrews will have to step down from the bench when her term ends June 30, reports the Post and Courier.

Although Segars-Andrews' determination that she did not need to recuse herself in the divorce case was upheld by the South Carolina Court of Appeals and the state's judicial discipline commission, the supreme court ruled that the panel had the power to determine that Segars-Andrews did not meet its standards, absent a showing of a constitutional violation. Judges in the state are elected by lawmakers after the panel finds them to be qualified, the newspaper explains.

Segars-Andrews should have recused herself, critics said, because her husband, who is also an attorney, had shared in a settlement with a lawyer representing one of the parties in the divorce case.

The supreme court ruling about Segars-Andrews represents "a tragic day for the independence of the judiciary," attorney Robert Rosen of Charleston tells the Post and Courier.

While the supreme court "did what it thought was right," this "doesn't change the fact that every judge in the state knows ... they are at the mercy of powerful disgruntled litigants and powerful members of the General Assembly," Rosen says.

State Senate Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, a Republican from Charleston, chaired the state Judicial Merit Selection Commission that found Segars-Andrews lacking.

"The constitution makes it very clear that the power to elect judges and select them lies in the legislature," he says, calling the supreme court ruling a green light for lawmakers to impose higher standards on judges.

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