Credit history put new judge’s bond at risk

Court Replaces Swearingen with Feaster as Chief Magistrate

WINNSBORO – A recently appointed Fairfield County magistrate’s credit problems placed her in jeopardy of having her appointment invalidated.

On July 11, the county’s Columbia-based bond insurer denied Danielle Miller’s application seeking to be bonded, citing Miller’s credit, according to documents The Voice obtained through the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.

Magistrates must be bonded to serve, according to state law.

Miller was one of four new magistrates appointed recently by State Sen. Mike Fanning, D-Great Falls. Fanning couldn’t be reached for comment.

“Unfortunately, Ms. Miller’s credit didn’t meet the requirements for this bond. The application was denied,” a July 11 email from South Risk Management, LLC of Columbia stated.

According to documents obtained through the S.C. Freedom of Information Act,  that email was forwarded to the S.C. Court Administration.

“Don’t know what to tell you. (S)he must have a bond or (s)he cannot hold office,” answered an official with Court Administration. “I would have the county manager look into alternative bonding companies. If (s)he is unable to be bonded that is a problem. (S)he would have to take that up with the Senator.”

Miller provides own bond

The following day, however, on July 12, Miller submitted her own bond to the county through Travelers Casualty and Surety of Hartford, Connecticut, in the amount of $10,000.

Had Miller’s efforts to acquire bonding not been successful, she would have been unqualified to serve as magistrate, according to state law.

“Any magistrate not in compliance with this section shall be subject to immediate removal from office until he shows good cause to the Supreme Court for not obtaining such bond,” the law states.

It’s unclear exactly what circumstances impacted Miller’s credit rating.

A default judgment was entered against Miller in July 2008, when she was ordered to pay $7,519,57 to Hudson & Keyse LLC, a debt collection agency, according to Fairfield County court records.

The judgment, however, was signed 11 years ago and most negative credit items typically drop off a credit report after seven years.

Also, in 2017, the three credit bureaus ceased including most civil judgments on a person’s credit report, according to a Consumer Data Industry Association news release.

Fairfield County court records don’t indicate whether or not Miller’s judgment was ultimately paid.

Her case, however, is representative of the kinds of cases over which she would have jurisdiction. Magistrates preside over civil cases up to $7,500 and certain misdemeanor cases, as well as issue bonds in most criminal cases.

Feaster Named Chief Magistrate

In a related matter on July 12, the S.C. Supreme Court issued a surprise order naming Russell Feaster as chief magistrate of Fairfield County, reversing the reappointment of Paul Swearingen as chief magistrate – an appointment that was confirmed by the Senate just two weeks earlier. Swearingen, an attorney, will now serve as a magistrate. Swearingen has served Fairfield County as chief magistrate since July 1, 2017 and as magistrate since 2010. Feaster, who is retired from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, was appointed magistrate a little over a year ago.