Tuesday, February 9, 2010
The South Carolina Supreme Court accepted an agreed public reprimand of a former county magistrate for intervention with tickets. The court found the following facts:
This matter was referred to ODC following an internal investigation at the Department of Public Safety (DPS). DPS had received information that State Transport police officers had been instructed through the chain of command to curtail or cease certain enforcement activity at the Lee County Landfill and to "nolle pros" or reduce tickets which had already been issued to county or municipal government trucks. Two State Transport officers also reported they had been approached by Lee County magistrates for "help" on tickets.
Respondent maintains he is contacted approximately five times per year by a legislator for help on tickets on behalf of constituents and that he, in turn, contacts the officers to see if help is available. Respondent also talks to officers if a violator calls and requests help on a ticket.
Respondent admits that, on one occasion, he was contacted by a county administrator regarding a weight ticket issued by the State Transport Police at the Lee County Landfill and that he approached the officer before court about the ticket. The officer declined to help, citing as the reason that the legislator had complained about the officer enforcing weight limits at the landfill. Respondent called the legislator about the officer's remark. The legislator responded that the only thing he had done was "call somebody in Columbia" about the weight tickets and told them (presumably the State Transport police) that they could write tickets anywhere in Lee County except at the entrance to the landfill.
Respondent acknowledges he was contacted by a county official for help on weight ticket W223647 and that he contacted the issuing officer. The officer told respondent to contact his supervisor; respondent contacted the officer's supervisor and the supervisor declined to intervene.
A State Transport police officer reported that he was contacted by respondent about help on weight ticket W210437 which had imposed a fine of $3,905.25. The officer stated he told respondent he could not help with the weight ticket, although he "didn't care" what respondent "did" with the ticket. Further, the officer reported that respondent asked the ticket be marked "not guilty" and the officer marked the ticket accordingly. Respondent informed ODC that he did not ask the officer for help on ticket W210437, but acknowledges that the trial officer's copy of the ticket indicates he was the presiding judge.
As to the agreed misconduct:
We have already condemned the practice of ticket-fixing or attempted ticket-fixing by magistrates. Ticket-fixing constitutes improper ex parte communication and severely undermines the public's confidence in a fair and impartial judicial system. Accordingly, again we emphasize that it is improper for a magistrate to engage in ex parte communications concerning any pending or impending judicial proceeding with an officer, alleged violator, or any third party, including a member of the legislature. (citations omitted)
The court also barred the former magistrate from seeking judicial office without its express permission and notice to disciplinary counsel.
Title update. The inspiration for this title comes from the recounting of a famous headline in the movie Yankee Doodle Dandy, my childhood favorite film. Wikipeda reports:
STICKS NIX HICK PIX is a headline printed in Variety, a newspaper covering Hollywood and the entertainment industry, on July 17, 1935, over an article about the reaction of rural audiences to movies about rural life. It is one of the most famous headlines ever to appear in an American publication.
Using a form of headlinese that the newspaper called slanguage, "Sticks Nix Hick Pix" means that people in rural areas ("the sticks") reject ("nix") motion pictures ("pix") about rural life ("hicks"). The conventional wisdom of the movie industry was that themes of upper-class life would not be popular in the countryside; according to the article, this assumption was incorrect.
According to Robert Landry of the Variety staff, the headline was written by Lyn Bonner; however, Sime's Site (a site for people associated with Variety, named after the paper's founder) credits it to Abel Green.
Because it was the lead headline of the paper, it was printed in all capital letters. Standard style for other Variety headlines was initial capital letters on virtually all words.