Thursday, June 16, 2022

O Captain, My Captain

The South Carolina Supreme Court has reprimanded a Magistrate 

Respondent has been married since 1996. His wife was employed with the Marion County Sheriff's Office (Sheriff's Office) from 2000 until her recent retirement in February 2022. In 2007, the Respondent's wife was promoted to Captain of the Sheriff's Office's investigation unit, a role which required Respondent's wife to handle "administrative supervision" of certain Sheriff's Office deputies.

On June 30, 2009, Respondent was appointed to serve as a Marion County Magistrate. Respondent never presided over any case or hearing in which his wife appeared or was directly involved. However, prior to the ODC investigation in this case, Respondent regularly presided over bond hearings, traffic citations, preliminary hearings, and other matters in which Sheriff's Office deputies who were supervised by Respondent's wife appeared before him.

In cases involving the Sheriff's Office, it was Respondent's practice to call the court to order and state on the record "[m]y wife is a Captain with the Marion County Sheriff's Office, and she was not involved in your case, but I would be happy to disqualify myself and have another judge hear your case." After this statement (or something substantially similar), Respondent's practice was to ask whether a defendant objected, and if the defendant did not speak up, Respondent would preside over the hearing.

Agreed violation

The commentary to Canon 3F makes clear that the parties' consideration of whether to waive the judge's disqualification must be made independently of the judge and that the judge "must not solicit, seek[,] or hear comment on possible remittal or waiver of the disqualification unless the lawyers jointly propose remittal after consultation as provided in the rule."

Respondent admits that because his wife was employed with the Sheriff's Office, Respondent's impartiality might reasonably be questioned in matters involving the Sheriff's Office. Although Respondent disclosed his wife's role as Captain in each case involving the Sheriff's Office, Respondent violated Canon 3E(1), Rule 501, SCACR, by failing to disclose, when appropriate, that even though is wife was not involved in a particular matter, she nevertheless supervised Sheriff's Office deputies involved in a case, a fact which the parties might find relevant to a determination of whether to waive Respondent's disqualification and which therefore should have been disclosed.

(Mike Frisch)

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


Post a comment