Opinion No. 7-2019
South Carolina Judicial Ethics Opinion
Advisory Committee On Standards of Judicial Conduct
May 6, 2019
LETITIA H. VERDIN, CHAIR.
Propriety of a municipal court judge’s docket clerk
dating a law enforcement officer.
municipal court judge’s docket clerk is in a
relationship with a law enforcement officer for the same
municipality. The docket clerk is responsible for scheduling
cases and documenting events that occur in cases while in
open court. The docket clerk is also responsible for case
management, including recording final dispositions in
Municipal Court cases and following instructions from the
municipal judge(s). The docket clerk appears in court
regularly and may be present at the same time that the law
enforcement officer the clerk is dating appears to prosecute
traffic cases. The municipal court judge inquires as to
whether he or she must disclose to all parties the
relationship between the docket clerk and the law enforcement
officer, or if the docket clerk should be recused from
handling those cases.
municipal court judge does not need to recuse the docket
clerk who is involved with a law enforcement officer, nor
does the judge need to disclose the relationship.
Canons do not address when a judge’s clerk should be
recused, only a judge, stating that a judge must disqualify
himself or herself in a proceeding where his/her impartiality
might reasonably be questioned. Rule 501, SCACR, Canon
Committee has addressed, on various occasions, judges married
or related to persons involved in law enforcement, with
varying conclusions. See, Opinions 172002 (magistrate dating
police officer must recuse himself in any matters in which
the police officer appeared); 1-1989 (finding no ethical
violation where judge is married to SLED officer);
1-1991(magistrate can preside over cases prosecuted by
sheriff’s department even though judge’s son is
sheriff); 9-1994 (no violation where magistrate is married to
a sheriff’s deputy); 25-1995 (no...