One of the most important, but often overlooked, roles in state government is the role of criminal prosecution. Working long and late hours for less than attorneys with private firms, they play a key role in our state’s judicial system. As issues related to crime and courts are one of our favorite areas of discussion, we always enjoy the opportunity to meet with the attorneys, judges and other officials in the system.
Recently we met with Ervin Jerome Maye, a Midlands prosecutor, when he was visiting the Lowcountry. We had a great time meeting with him and he agreed to share a little bit about himself and his work with Blogland readers, via our Inside Interview series of interviews.
About Maye’s background:
My family has roots in South Carolina going back substantially before the Civil War. Both my mother and father’s sides of the family had members that were legislators, attorneys, and served in the judiciary. I grew up just above Chesterfield County, SC in Wingate, NC. I graduated from Wingate College in 1989 and came to USC Law School on a scholarship. I graduated from USC in 1992 and was fortunate to have had the opportunity to serve as the last law clerk for Circuit Judge Julius H. Baggett, prior to his retirement in 1994. Judge Baggett was a legislator and the first South Carolina House Majority Leader before being elected to the position of Resident Judge of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in 1976. I also had the privilege to serve as the first law clerk for Marc H. Westbrook, a former Lexington County Legislator and Family Court Judge, upon his election in 1994. Upon completion of my clerkship with Judge Westbrook, I was hired by Solicitor Donnie Myers in the Eleventh Circuit Solicitor’s Office. Shortly after my hiring I was assigned to assist Solicitor Myers in handling the prosecution of cases and administration of the criminal docket in Edgefield, Saluda, and McCormick Counties.
Why did you choose to go to law school and then work as a prosecutor?
Since the second grade, I knew that I wanted to be an attorney. I come from a large family of individuals dedicated to public service. My Father served in the military during World War II and the Korean conflict. He subsequently served as postmaster in our community for more than twenty-five years. My Mother was a public school teacher for thirty years, and most of my siblings currently work as educators in the public school system. My family has demonstrated a strong tradition service in the military and law enforcement. Consequently, my work as a prosecutor has always seemed like an extension of that tradition and a wonderful fit for me.
Tell us about a major accomplishment in your career?
While I am proud of my work as a prosecutor, I have always thought one of the major accomplishments in my career was fostering inter-county and inter-agency cooperation in law enforcement. In 1996, I worked with my Sheriffs, Police Chiefs, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, and Federal Authorities to form a multi-agency and multi-county task force to combat unlawful narcotics distribution and violent crimes in our area. With seed money from a federal grant that I drafted, the task force eventually evolved into an organization involving 12 different agencies with both federal and state officers assigned. The result was an extremely successful program that resulted in countless arrests and subsequent successful prosecutions of narcotics traffickers, dealers, and violent criminal offenders. We were able to purchase advanced equipment and equip and further the training of a large number of officers and prosecutors. This task force was set up at the outset to include the assigned prosecutors as an integral part of both the investigations and subsequent prosecution of cases. I am absolutely certain that this project dramatically increased the effectiveness of law enforcement on a regional level as well as cooperation between various law enforcement agencies that continues to this day.
Rural counties face tight budgets and shrinking resources for the judicial system. Can these hurdles be overcome? If so, how?
I sincerely believe that they can. With the limited budget and small staff we have, it would be impossible for our office to operate effectively without the close cooperation of our law enforcement agencies and public officials. Almost every law enforcement agency in all three of these counties in which I work assign at least one officer to closely work with us during General Sessions Court to ensure that we are cooperating and responding to an ever increasing workload. Our county and municipal officials have also been instrumental in cooperating to help us effectively deal with the challenges created by our current financial climate. Without the victims’ advocates, investigators, probation agents, and court staff helping us to keep pace with an increasing workload, we could not address our current situation. Increasing the level of cooperation among all of the parties that work in the system is the only way to address this issue on a statewide level.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the state’s criminal justice system and how could they best be addressed?
Obviously the increasing workload combined with a tough financial climate present the greatest challenge. In eighteen years of being a prosecutor, it is clear to me that pending criminal cases to do not move forward until a Defendant, his or her Attorney, the Prosecutor, the Judge, and a pool of jurors are all in close proximity. I applaud our Chief Justice in requesting more judges and more terms of court for our system. Our county jails continue to be overcrowded and backlogs will only increase without increasing terms of court. The cost of increasing the number of judges and terms of court pales in comparison with the costs of pre- trial confinement and allowing the backlog in our system to increase. My boss, Solicitor Myers, was an early adopter of diversion programs and the drug court system. We will have to embrace innovations such as these programs and look for other alternatives for non-violent offenders.
Your current employer, Solicitor Donnie Myers, is sometimes called “Doctor Death”. Do you have a professional nickname?
Having known Solicitor Myers for more than twenty years, I know that this nickname is something that he does not relish. From personal experience, I know the solemn reverence he has for the responsibility of his office. I also know that once he reaches the decision that this ultimate punishment (the death penalty) is warranted, he is one of the most effective organizers and hardest working individuals that I have ever been around. He assembles a team of extremely capable people and moves the case forward by sheer force of will. Anyone that has ever participated in a death penalty case in which he is involved knows that his reputation as one of the world’s foremost death penalty prosecutors is well deserved.
Standing in the shadow of some of the best attorneys in this State such as my boss and the two judges that I had the privilege of working for, I do not have a nickname of such renown. Having had the benefit of working with some of the best (Solicitor Myers, Judge Baggett, Judge Knox McMahon, among them) of what I would term old time orators, I would have to confess to have, at least in part, adopted some of that same style of argument. Some of the investigators with which I have worked in prosecuting cases and more than one judge have told me that if they closed their eyes during some of my closing arguments they could have sworn that they were listening to a country preacher in the midst of a fire and brimstone sermon.
You’ve spent most of your life in the Midlands, but surely you get out the house some. What is one of your favorite non-Midlands places to go in South Carolina?
One of the great things about living in the Midlands is the fact that one is never much more than an hour or so away from great sights along the coast and the beauty of our upstate mountain region. I would have to say that one of my favorite areas of South Carolina is around Lake Jocassee and Table Rock State Park. I enjoy flying over that area when attending the September Dacusville Farm Days gathering in Pickens County.
Work isn’t everything. So what do you do in your free time?
I have a big list of hobbies and activities that I enjoy. I am a private pilot and love to fly. I am a skydiver and have hundreds of jumps. Any vehicle or mechanical conveyance fascinates me. My shop behind my house bears testament to my love of restoring antique cars and trucks. I work on all sorts of mechanical and fabrication projects and confess to having a real weakness when it comes to accumulating tools and equipment. Motorcycling, mountain biking, and kayaking allow me to be outdoors. I love to weight-train and exercise and am at the gym almost every day after work. I am so fortunate to work in law enforcement and our courts, which allows me to be around so many interesting people. My friends have been so kind to include me in the activities that they enjoy and often draw me into exploring new interests. One of the former Police Chiefs in my area has been teaching me martial arts for years. I really believe that we all need to challenge ourselves and learn new things or we risk becoming stagnant and complacent.