Learn a lesson from this South Carolina Supreme Court case
My daughter used to watch a television show called “What Not to Wear”, a sort of reality show where family members had dreadful dressers basically kidnapped and schooled about the transgressions they were creating with their wardrobes. I lived in fear for a while that my daughter was going to turn me in. That show came to mind when I read a recent judicial disciplinary case decided by the South Carolina Supreme Court on August 22.*
In this case, a probate judge was publicly reprimanded for two behaviors that should never occur in any office, and definitely not in a legal office or judge’s office. In addition to the public reprimand, the judge resigned his position.
What did he do? First, he called court personnel names, “heifers” and “DW” (double wide). Seriously? The judge admitted the inappropriate and unprofessional comments, but maintains he was joking when the comments were made. He also instigated “pranks and jokes” during working hours which he admitted were unprofessional and discourteous. We weren’t given details on the pranks and jokes, but we can only imagine based on the names he used for his staff members.
Trust me when I say no boss should call staff members names directly or indirectly commenting on their weight. And “pranks and jokes” are typically not a good idea either.
The second complaint came from the use of the probate court account for personal financial dealings. The judge had repairs done to the roof at his home and received two checks from his insurance company to cover the cost. Because his ex-wife held a fifty percent interest in the property, the insurance checks were made out to the judge and his ex-wife. The ex-wife is a former associate probate judge who worked for the judge, but who lived in Ohio during these events. Let your imagination run wild about what may have caused her to leave this employment and this marriage.
The judge asked his stepson to secure his ex-wife’s endorsement on the checks, which he did. When the bank wouldn’t accept the checks for deposit, the judge deposited them in the probate court’s account and wrote a check from that account to his stepson in the amount of the insurance proceeds.
The stepson did not use the funds to pay the roofing company and, instead, used the money for his own benefit. The judge learned of his stepson’s actions when he was served with a summons and complaint by the roofing company. The judge has now filed suit against the stepson to recover the money.
The Supreme Court stated that the strongest punishment available since the judge had resigned his position. The judge also agreed not to seek or accept another judicial position in South Carolina without first obtaining express written permission from the Supreme Court, after providing notice to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
*In the Matter of Peeler, South Carolina Supreme Court Opinion No. 27830 (August 22, 2018)