Columbians Gergel, Childs Confirmed as Federal Judges

Source: The State, John Monk

August 6, 2010

Longtime Columbia lawyer Richard Gergel and state Circuit Judge Michelle Childs have been confirmed as federal judges by the U.S. Senate.

The confirmations, which the Senate passed on a voice vote without fanfare Thursday night, assure that Gergel, 55, and Childs,43, now will be formally named as judges by President Obama. That could come as early as next week.

Gergel, a longtime trial lawyer specialized in plaintiff medical malpractice and other injury cases, Childs, an at-large state circuit court judge, were praised Friday by State Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal.

“These are two of our most talented lawyers,” Toal said.

“Richard has appeared many times before me (in the Supreme Court, and he is one of our very best top-tier lawyers,” Toal said.

Childs, said Toal, “is one of my most valued judges. I don’t know if I have any harder-working judge in our whole system.”

Longtime U.S. Judge Joe Anderson said, “Both Gergel and Childs are destined to be excellent judges. They have a wealth of courtroom experience, good common sense and are of high moral character.”

In the years Childs has been circuit judge, she has proved such a fine jurist that she is one of three judges who also handles complex lawsuits in which businesses are suing other businesses, Toal said.

“I hate to see her to go, but I suspect the U.S. District Court here in South Carolina will not be her last stop along the way,” said Toal.

As a longtime trial lawyer. Gergel has often sued powerful business and health care interests. But he is known for putting together cases so well that defendants often settle rather than face him in court. Although he is a Democrat, Gergel had the backing of U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and did not incur a “hold” by ultra conservative Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.

Gergel is the husband of Belinda Gergel, Columbia city council member.

Childs, a former member of Nexsen Pruet law firm, was elected judge in 2006. Like Gergel, she lives in the Columbia area.

Gergel and Childs are expected to be privately sworn in a ceremony as early as next week, so they can start work as early as possible. A formal, public swearing in will be scheduled later.

Federal judgeships are lifetime appointments and carry a salary of about $169,000.

When Gergel and Childs finally don their robes, they will bring the number of federal judges in South Carolina up to 10 full time. The state federal bench here has been operating with eight fulltime judges, two under its authorized complement.

Childs is expected to be assigned to Greenville; Gergel, to Charleston.