Trailblazer in and around the court, Judge Casey Manning retires

Hundreds of South Carolinians, including the governor and former chief justice of the Supreme Court, on Thursday paid tribute to Justice Casey Manning’s tremendous career, who helped break the color barrier in collegiate athletics and was known for having a sense of humor to bring to the bank.

The Columbia-based trial judge, who sat on the bench for 28 years, is retiring this year. By law, judges in South Carolina must retire at the age of 72.

Costa Pleicones, a former Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court, recently told more than 350 people at the University of South Carolina’s Alumni Center that more than 50 years ago, one of Manning’s greatest accomplishments was on the school’s basketball court — not in court.

Just as legend Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player to desegregate Major League Baseball in 1947, was chosen not only for his great athletic ability but also for his character, intellect and “basic human decency,” Pleicones said, Manning was handpicked by leaders to be the first black athlete to compete in college sports for the university.

“Casey Manning’s selection as the first African-American fellow in USC history in 1969 was no accident. He was carefully chosen as he embodied all the positive qualities of Jackie Robinson and arguably entered a more hostile arena,” Pleicones said, referring to racial slurs against black players.

“Casey Manning is Jackie Robinson from South Carolina,” Pleicones said.

Thursday’s dozen or so speakers also talked about Manning’s character while poking fun at the resigning judge. Many touched on the judge’s well-known personal trademarks: his fondness for different colored cowboy boots, his aggressive way of even asking close friends questions like “What’s your name?”. and his dog, named after famous blues singer Fats Waller.

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Charleston Democratic Rep. Deon Tedder, Manning’s former legal clerk, called his former boss “the only person I know who can yell at you while she’s telling you to calm down,” describing one of the many personality traits for which Manning is known.

Among the honors Manning was showered with was the Order of the Palmetto, the state’s highest civilian decoration, presented personally by Governor Henry McMaster. Manning also received a key to the City of Columbia from former paralegal and city manager Teresa Wilson and Columbia Council member Edwin McDowell Jr., as well as a SC House proclamation written by Rep. Seth Rose, an attorney and former University of South Carolina All, was presented -American tennis player.

In addition, city and state officials announced that two streets — one in Columbia at the Richland County Courthouse and one in Manning’s home county of Dillon — would be renamed in his honor.

McMaster, who said he had been a Manning fan since the judge’s days on the Gamecocks basketball team, praised the judge for his work with young attorneys and charities.

“He was a mentor to young people, especially young lawyers, and his activities have expanded into activities like United Way,” McMaster said, noting that Manning had once received a prestigious award for courtesy on the bench. “Many people know him best from his 25 years as a radio color analyst for USC men’s basketball.”

The Order of the Palmetto was presented to Manning, McMaster said, for having had a “remarkable career and impact on our state.”

Also present were former South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal, former Circuit Court Chief Justice James Lockemy, several state judges including DeAndrea Benjamin, Carmen Mullen and Diane Goodstein, and elect attorneys Byron Gipson, David Stumbo and Ernest Finney.

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Former University of South Carolina star basketball player Alex English, who was Manning’s roommate the year they both played at the school, was also there.

Such was Todd Ellis, a Columbia attorney and star quarterback for the Gamecocks in the 1980s, and Columbia attorney and former varsity track and field athlete Joe McCulloch, who also lived in Manning’s college dorm.

Daniel Coble, a Columbia attorney who was chosen to fill Manning’s post, attended the celebration. So did Representatives Todd Rutherford and Beth Bernstein, both Richland Democrats and attorneys, and State Attorney Senator Gerald Malloy, a Darlington Democrat. Other attorneys present: IS Leevy-Johnson of Columbia, media attorney Jay Bender, and Jim Griffin, who is defending accused murderer Alex Murdaugh in an upcoming trial.

State judges are allowed to have paralegals, and Manning has had 28 over the years, many of whom have risen to top positions, such as Benjamin, who is likely to join the prestigious Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals soon.

“He’s a wonderful bridge to the new face of South Carolina,” Toal said. “This room was filled to the brim with people from all walks of life and backgrounds, it was a gathering that could not have happened when he first came to USC as an undergraduate,” because of segregation.

“Quite a gathering,” remarked one person.

“Quite a judge,” replied Columbia attorney Boyd Young.