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Trailblazer on and in the court, Judge Casey Manning retires

Hundreds of South Carolinians, including the governor and former state Supreme Court chief justices, on Thursday honored the vast career of Judge Casey Manning, who helped break the color barrier in college athletics and was known for bringing a sense of humor to the bench.

The Columbia-based trial judge, who sat on the bench for 28 years, is retiring this year. Judges in South Carolina must retire by age 72 per state law.

Costa Pleicones, a former chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court, told the crowd of more than 350 people recently at the University of South Carolina Alumni Center that more than 50 years ago, one of Manning's greatest achievements came on the school's basketball court — not in the courts of law.

Just as legend Jackie Robinson, the first Black baseball player to desegregate Major League Baseball in 1947, was picked not only for his great athletic skills but also because of his character, intellect and "basic human decency," Pleicones said, Manning was carefully selected by leaders to be the first Black athlete to play collegiate sports for the university.

"Casey Manning's selection as the first African American scholarship athlete in USC history in 1969 was no accident. He was carefully chosen as he embodied all the positive attributes displayed by Jackie Robinson and was arguably entering a more hostile arena," Pleicones said, referring to racist insults hurled toward Black players.

"Casey Manning is South Carolina's Jackie Robinson," Pleicones said.

The dozen or so speakers Thursday also spoke of Manning's character, while poking fun at the retiring judge. Many touched on the judge's well-known personal trademarks: his penchant for cowboy boots of different colors, his aggressive way of questioning even close friends with questions, such as "What's your name?" and his dog named for famous blues singer Fats Waller.

Charleston Democratic Rep. Deon Tedder, Manning's former law clerk, called his former boss, "the only person I know who can shout at you while telling you to calm down," describing one of the many personality traits Manning is known for.

Honors heaped on Manning included the Order of the Palmetto, the state's highest civilian honor, personally presented by Gov. Henry McMaster. Manning also received a key to the city of Columbia from former law clerk and City Manager Teresa Wilsonand Columbia Councilman Edwin McDowell Jr., and a proclamation from the S.C. House, presented by Rep. Seth Rose, a lawyer and former University of South Carolina All-American tennis player.

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

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

"He's been a mentor to young people, particularly young lawyers, and his activities have spread out to the activities such as the United Way," McMaster said, noting Manning once received a prestigious award for his civility on the bench. "A lot of people know him best for his 25 years as a radio color analyst for USC men's basketball."

The Order of the Palmetto was presented to Manning, McMaster said, because he had a "remarkable career, and a remarkable impact on our state."

Also in attendance included former South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal, former state Court of Appeals Chief Judge James Lockemy, several state judges including DeAndrea Benjamin, Carmen Mullen and Diane Goodstein and elected solicitors Byron Gipson, David Stumbo and Ernest Finney.

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

So was Todd Ellis, a Columbia lawyer and star Gamecocks quarterback in the 1980s, and Columbia lawyer and former university track letter athlete Joe McCulloch, who also roomed in Manning's dorm in college.

Daniel Coble, a Columbia lawyer elected to take Manning's post, attended the celebration. And so did Reps. Todd Rutherford and Beth Bernstein, both Richland Democrats and lawyers, and lawyer state Sen. Gerald Malloy, a Democrat from Darlington. Other attorneys present: I.S. Leevy-Johnson of Columbia, media attorney Jay Bender and Jim Griffin, who is defending accused killer Alex Murdaugh in an upcoming trial.

State judges are allowed to have law clerks, and Manning had 28 over the years, many of whom have gone on to top posts, such as Benjamin, who will likely soon join the prestigious federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"He is a wonderful bridge to the new face of South Carolina," Toal said. "That room was filled to the brim with people from every walk of life and background, it was a gathering that could not have been had when he first came to USC as a student," because of segregation.

"Quite a gathering," one person observed.

"Quite a judge," replied Columbia lawyer Boyd Young.

John Monk, writer for The State newspaper, Columbia, SC