As 13th Judicial Circuit solicitor, Walter Wilkins oversees prosecutions in both Greenville and Pickens counties. He has served in the elected position since 2011.
The Greenville Journal sat down with Wilkins to discuss the work of the solicitor’s office.
What is a day in the life of a solicitor like?
The great thing about being a solicitor is that no two days are exactly the same. I have about 54 lawyers total that work for me, and so there’s a lot of moving parts. I didn’t realize the management part of the solicitor’s office at this level with 159 total employees.
It’s coming into the office and figuring out what is the most pressing issue. A lot of times I’m reviewing cases, whether it’s an officer-involved shooting or complex cases with difficult legal issues … or issues that have come up in a particular case that we need to deal with and determine how the litigation should go forward.
You’re operating a very large law firm with community impact issues, and you’re also working with a number of different agencies as well. So as a solicitor, you’re a liaison to law enforcement consistently, but not just the sheriff’s office, city police departments, but also people who run the jail; you’re also liaison to politicians, County Council, state legislators, governors [and the media].
It is really dealing in that multitude of different areas of the daily grind of issues that come through.
How did you become the solicitor?
My father was the solicitor in the ’70s. I grew up sort of learning about the prosecution world, but I went to law school and I took a job in Argentina with Lockheed Martin right after. I was doing kind of corporate work, not much litigation. I was using my Spanish a lot in my private practice days, and I had an opportunity to go work for the United States Attorney’s Office. In 2005, I took a job as an assistant United States attorney in Greenville and learned how to be a prosecutor. I was fortunate enough to become the U.S. attorney for South Carolina in 2008. And in 2010, I decided to run for solicitor.
What’s the toughest thing about being the solicitor and how do you not burn out?
We never have a winner. We have somebody who’s been harmed, and somebody who has a family or a loved one who is going to be punished for that crime — oftentimes going to jail for many years. But I would say emotionally the crimes that have the largest emotional impact on myself and my prosecutors [are] the crimes against children.
I have counselors who are readily available to any of my prosecutors that we will bring in and talk to them about any of the vicarious trauma that they may be experiencing, as well.
When we see somebody that we feel [is] getting burned out, just starting to feel the grind of that daily trauma of badness going on in their life, we’ll switch them out and give them something a little bit lighter.
How often do you try cases?
I attempt to try two cases a year, personally. Now I’m involved in reviewing, assessing and making prosecutorial decisions on hundreds and hundreds of cases every single year.
What’s something that you don’t think people know about your office?
I just don’t think people realize how hard and difficult the work that we do inside this office really is, and how many people inside this office people will never hear from, they will never know who they are. They’re quietly working every single day, protecting and serving the community, and want no adulation, they want no prize, they don’t want anything. They do it because they care, and they love serving the people.