Magistrate judge suspended after he reacts to COVID-19 safety plan with 'disruptive behavior'

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A magistrate judge in South Carolina will have to serve a six-month suspension and complete anger management training for reacting to a COVID-19 safety plan with “disruptive behavior.”

The magistrate judge, Jerry Fletcher Rivers of Florence, South Carolina, had admitted misconduct and agreed to a suspension of up to six months, according to the South Carolina Supreme Court opinion imposing discipline. The Post and Courier has coverage while the Legal Profession Blog has opinion highlights.

According to the Aug. 11 opinion, Rivers became “visibly agitated” during a May 2020 meeting held to discuss the safety plan to reopen magistrates’ courts in Florence County.

“During the meeting,” the state supreme court said, Rivers “began asking questions repeatedly, speaking in a loud voice and challenging the chief magistrate’s COVID-19 safety plan for reopening.”

The plan was designed to comply with a South Carolina Supreme Court order.

At one point, another magistrate told Rivers to follow the chief magistrate’s directions.

The chief magistrate ended the meeting early due to Rivers’ continued disruptions. Outside the meeting, Rivers told the magistrate who confronted him that he should not disrespect him again.

Rivers then returned to the meeting room where the chief magistrate was gathering her personal belongings.

The chief magistrate was startled to see Rivers, “who was hitting his hands together and loudly requesting that going forward the chief magistrate should show him respect,” the supreme court opinion says. “The chief magistrate grew concerned for her physical well-being. The following day, she reported the incident to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.”

About a month later, Rivers told a Florence County clerk that the chief magistrate “does not know who she is dealing with and she will regret” reporting him to the disciplinary counsel.

Rivers was placed on interim suspension on July 10, 2020. He “recognizes that his concerns regarding COVID-19 do not excuse his behavior and that his disruptive behavior reflected poorly on his professional judgment and temperament,” the state supreme court said.

The six-month suspension is retroactive to last year’s July 20 interim suspension.

Magistrate judges in South Carolina have jurisdiction over lower-level criminal cases and civil cases in which the amount in controversy is $7,500 or less. They also set bail, conduct preliminary hearings and issue arrest and search warrants.

See also:

The Post and Courier: “These SC judges can have less training than barbers but still decide thousands of cases each year”

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