Monday, October 13, 2008
A public reprimand--the most severe sanction that could be imposed in light of the resignation from office--was imposed by the South Carolina Supreme Court on a`magistrate for two instances of misconduct. One matter involved the following misconduct:
On August 19, 2004, respondent was about to enter Highway 321 from his driveway when he noticed a pick-up truck traveling toward Denmark at what he thought was a high rate of speed. Respondent estimated the truck’s speed to be 100 miles per hour. Once he entered the highway himself, respondent observed the truck attempting to pass slower vehicles, almost causing some oncoming cars to veer off the road.
Gregory Brown was driving the truck. Brown eventually stopped at a red light in Denmark. Respondent pulled up on the left side of the truck, looked at Brown, and shook his head in a disapproving manner. Brown rolled down the window and asked what respondent was looking at, to which respondent replied, “I’m looking at you,” and made a comment about Brown’s driving. Brown responded that he did not care what respondent thought, to which respondent replied: “You might ought to care, you might run into me at some point.” When Brown asked why, respondent said that he was the municipal judge for Denmark.
The light changed, and as the truck pulled forward, respondent turned right, across the traffic lane and pulled in behind the truck to an adjacent parking lot. According to respondent, he pulled off the road in order to retrieve his cell phone, which had slid off the passenger seat, so he could call police.
As respondent exited his vehicle, he noticed the truck coming backward toward him. Respondent assumed the truck was trying to run over him, reported that it narrowly missed him and would have hit him had he not jumped out of the way. According to Brown, however, he did not know who respondent was or what he was doing, and he drove backwards to keep respondent in front of him in order to see what respondent was doing.
After additional verbal exchange between respondent and Brown, respondent entered his vehicle, drove through a red light, and proceeded to the Denmark police department where respondent reported that someone had tried to run over him. An officer accompanied respondent back to the scene, and a bystander reported that the truck had gone toward Barnwell. The bystander gave them Brown’s license plate number. Respondent then went to the local magistrate’s office and began the process of taking out a warrant against Brown for the offense of threatening a public official.
Brown was stopped by police a short while later in Barnwell. A Denmark police officer brought Brown back to the magistrate’s office where respondent was seeking a warrant.
The presiding magistrate examined the applicable statute and determined that a warrant for the offense of threatening a public official should not be issued and suggested that perhaps another charge would be more appropriate. After some discussion, the officer issued a reckless driving ticket to Brown. The magistrate set bond, and Brown was transported back to his truck. Brown subsequently mailed in a $200 bond, which was forfeited; he was convicted for reckless driving.
Respondent asserted to Disciplinary Counsel that his intention was to dissuade Brown from further dangerous driving that he believed was an imminent threat to other motorists. Respondent acknowledges that reference to his judicial office was not appropriate.
The other charges involved a foreclosure action against marital property held solely in his wife's name. He had attempted to set aside the foreclosure as a purported purchaser from his`wife.
For whatever it's worth, Wikipedia`reports the following about Denmark:
Due to the limited income, which is close to three times less than that of the overall U.S. household, the municipality has had to resort to other revenue-generating means, such as speed traps. The most noted, documented one is located on State Highway 70 near Wisteria Street. Leaving town, the 30 mph through-town speed limit changes to 45 on an uphill curve (conversely, entering town from the 45 mph highway speed, it abruptly changes to 30 mph on a downhill curve) with no notice or warning. The local police wait in a ditch nearby behind a hill looking for cars with no front license plates (which means it is not a South Carolina vehicle). As little as a few miles above speed limit earns a ticket.