Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Blurred Boundaries

The South Carolina Supreme Court has accepted a consent six-month suspension of a magistrate

In 2017 and 2018, Respondent was the Chief Magistrate of Chester County and her husband was the Chester County Sheriff. The Chester County Sheriff's Department (Sheriff's Department) had a Facebook page through which members of the public could send private tips regarding criminal activity. Respondent accessed the Sheriff's Department's Facebook messages on the Sheriff's behalf for the purpose of transmitting the information to Sheriff's Department Employees and requesting that certain actions be taken in response to various complaints, including suspected drug activity and trash and noise complaints. In doing so, Respondent copied the messages from Facebook, then used her Chester County issued judicial email account to forward the complaints to Sheriff's Department employees. Respondent's emails included a signature block in which she identified herself as a Chester County Magistrate and listed the address and telephone number for the magistrate's court.

Additionally, in 2018, Respondent assisted her husband with drafting a disciplinary action concerning a Sheriff's Department employee. Respondent used her judicial email account to forward the draft of the disciplinary action to her husband for his review. That same year, Respondent prepared a letter for the Sheriff's Department in which the Community Services Division recommended a student for a scholarship. Using her judicial email account, Respondent emailed the Sheriff's Department staff directing them to place the letter on Sheriff's Department letterhead and place it in a Sheriff's Department envelope.

Jurisdiction

Respondent is not licensed to practice law in South Carolina. However, as an officer of the unified judicial system eligible to perform judicial functions in South Carolina, she is subject to the jurisdiction of the Commission on Judicial Conduct

Violations

The Agreement establishes Respondent accessed the Sheriff's Department Facebook messages, received citizen complaints, forwarded those complaints using her judicial email account, involved herself in Sheriff's Department personnel matters, and prepared correspondence on behalf of the Sheriff's department. These actions blurred the boundaries between her role as an independent and impartial magistrate and someone acting on behalf of the Sheriff's Department. Regardless of whether Respondent intended her emails and actions to remain private, her conduct served to erode public confidence in the judiciary. Accordingly, we find Respondent's pattern of conduct with the Sheriff's Department is sufficient to create in reasonable minds a perception that her ability to carry out her judicial responsibilities impartially is impaired, thereby violating Canon 2A of the Code of Judicial Conduct, Rule 501, SCACR.

(Mike Frisch)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2022/05/the-south-carolina-supreme-court-has-accepted-a-consent-six-month-suspension-in-2017-and-2018-respondent-was-the-chief-magi.html

Bar Discipline & Process, Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink

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