Courts in South Carolina operate in multi-county circuits. Most circuits serve two or three counties. The Fourteenth Circuit is the only to have five: Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton, Jasper and Allendale. This stems, in part, because several counties were carved out of the old Beaufort District that dates to colonial times.
Hampton County split off from Beaufort in 1877. Jasper County left Beaufort in 1912. Finally, Allendale was cut out of Hampton and Barnwell Counties in 1919. Colleton was one of the colony’s original three counties in 1683. It was absorbed by Charleston in 1769 and then became its own entity again in 1798.
In 1916, the area now served by the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit was removed from the Charleston court system. During the circuit’s first 90 years, the elected solicitor hailed from Hampton County, and for 86 of those years, the solicitor hailed from the same family.
Initially, the General Assembly elected Hampton attorney George Warren as the first resident judge. However, Warren declined to accept the position, in part because while serving in the S.C. House of Representatives from 1912-1916, he played an integral role in the legislation that formed the circuit. Instead, he ran for solicitor and defeated Heber R. Padgett of Colleton County for the position.
Warren, for whom Lake Warren in Hampton County is named, was a prominent figure in the first half of the 20th century in the Lowcountry. He graduated from Clemson University, where he starred in track and football, and was admitted to the S.C. Bar in 1909, according to a biography published in a 1962 edition of the South Carolina Law Review, shortly after his death. He chose not to seek reelection as solicitor in 1920, however, and returned to the General Assembly as a senator.
Warren’s departure from the office opened the door for the fellow Hampton County attorney who would take his place.
Randolph Murdaugh Sr. was elected in 1920, defeating Padgett and R.M. Jefferies, according to a history of the office published in The (Walterboro) Press and Standard in March 1941. He served as solicitor until 1940, when he was killed after his automobile collided with a freight train at a crossing in Early Branch. Murdaugh Sr. was succeeded by his son, Randolph “Buster” Murdaugh, who held the position until his retirement in 1986. Buster’s son, Randolph Murdaugh, III, was elected and served for almost 20 years until he retired from the position and went into private practice in 2005.
In 2006, Governor Mark Sanford selected an assistant solicitor in the office, Duffie Stone, to serve as Solicitor. He was elected to serve his first full term in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012, 2016 and 2020.