By Gregg Bragg, Senior Staff Writer for The Island Connection
Kelsey Willey is running for Charleston County Probate Judge and is the only lawyer contesting the office in the June 12 democratic primary. She graduated from Longwood University, a liberal arts institution in Farmville, VA founded in 1839, with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Sociology. Willey then earned her J.D. from the Charleston School of Law, helped found the Willey Law Firm, and has since honed her skills arguing cases in over half of SC’s 46 probate courts.
Probate Court issues marriage licenses, presides over actions concerning the estates of the deceased, individual wills, the estate of a minor, matters of trust, the estate of an incapacitated person, and the involuntary commitment of individuals to institutions. Applying the notion of “commitment” to mental health sounds straight forward enough, but also means Probate functions as the “drug court,” an area Willey wants to improve.
Willey’s vision for Probate Court reflects a move into the 21st century which leverages existing law to combat the opioid crises, recidivism, and overcrowded prisons. For example, current statutes allow accused, nonviolent drug offenders to enroll in a treatment program in lieu of contesting charges (e.g. entering a guilty plea).
The 15 month long course (minimum) requires weekly urinalysis, 2-3 counseling sessions/week, 2 self-help sessions/week, proof of employment each week, quarterly hair follicle analysis, and restitution for associated expenses. Failure to complete the program is not tolerated and could result in reinstatement of the original charges, but completing it produces a clean slate. > Willey’s primary opponent routinely ordered jail time for the now defenseless accused, an archaic method Willey says she would not pursue.
Willey added that her 6 term opponent in the general election doesn’t leverage medication assisted treatment, which is the national standard for probate courts, and the scientifically proven technique used to reduce recidivism and treat the disease that is addiction. Consequently, when people reoffend their sentences are comparatively harsh for lack of the treatment they needed from the drug court. She says this will change if she wins November’s general election, fixing problems instead of feeding them, and saving county residents the cost of incarceration whenever possible.
Willey also plans to update how the court handles heirs. There is a huge backlog of cases dealing with unclaimed property, the court’s most commonly understood function. For example, claiming the body of a “friend” means paying funeral expenses some are unwilling or unable to undertake. However, that leaves unclaimed property heirs come looking for as much as 30 years later, she says, and the property has usually been redistributed. Unraveling those claims increases the court’s work-load, and can delay action on emerging cases. Willey wants to clear the backlog, proactively contact heirs and better serve Charleston County.
Probate attorneys in the area typically hesitate to run for the judgeship. Caseloads for attorneys don’t disappear because of a bid for elected office. Active cases still have to be argued before the person you’re running against and/or the person you just lost to.
For more information on Willey’s candidacy or ways to get involved, visit KelseyWilley.com