Judge is suspended once again for social media posts—this time for soliciting hurricane donations
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A South Carolina probate judge has been suspended for 18 months, partly for soliciting hurricane relief donations on Facebook and partly for his all-caps declaration as a would-be character witness.
Johns posted the hurricane solicitation on Facebook in September 2018.
“For my birthday this year, I’m asking for donations to American Red Cross. I’ve chosen this nonprofit because of food, water, and much more provided for those affected by Hurricane Florence in NC & SC,” Johns posted.
Johns’ Facebook page identified himself as a probate judge in Oconee County, South Carolina. The state supreme court noted that he restored the information to his Facebook page after a 2016 disciplinary matter that also involved Johns’ social media posts.
In the 2016 case, the state supreme court imposed a six-month suspension following Johns’ social media posts commenting on a matter pending before the court, endorsing a presidential candidate, and engaging in fundraising for a local church.
He had told the court in that case that he would refrain from making political posts or posting fundraising information on Facebook or any other social media.
He also said in the prior case that he had removed references to himself as a judge on Facebook and would not reference anything involving his court.
Johns admitted that his Facebook hurricane solicitation violated provisions of the conduct code that prohibit judges from using the prestige of their office to advance the interests of themselves or others and that bar judges from personally participating in fundraising activities.
In its latest suspension order, the state supreme court also cited a second incident that happened in October 2017.
Johns voluntarily prepared a certification attesting to the character of a South Carolina resident in litigation pending in New Jersey.
In the certification, Johns wrote: “I am aware of the fact that there is a claim in New Jersey that [Mr. S.] has made fraudulent conveyances of his mother’s money. THIS IS A COMPLETE AND UNADULTERATED LIE AND COMPLETELY UNTRUE. There is NO VALIDITY TO THAT STATEMENT AT ALL.”
Throughout the certification, Johns advocated on behalf of Mr. S. and his legal position, the state supreme court said.
Johns admitted that his certification violated provisions of the judicial conduct code requiring judges to uphold the integrity of the judiciary and to avoid impropriety or the appearance of impropriety. He also admitted violating a code provision prohibiting judges from testifying voluntarily as character witnesses.
Probate judges in South Carolina don’t have to be lawyers. The state supreme court that noted Johns isn’t licensed to practice law but said he is still subject to the jurisdiction of the state’s judicial conduct commission.
Reuters spoke with Johns’ attorney, Larry Brandt. Brandt said the judgment was fair, although his client had sought a lesser sanction. He said Johns would have benefited from the help of lawyers who understood judicial ethics when he posted on Facebook.