Fanning supported magistrate back pay

CHESTER – State Senator Mike Fanning believes Magistrate Angel Underwood deserved to receive back pay for the time she was suspended from the bench, but did not personally have a hand in her receiving a $39,000 lump sum payment, Fanning said.

Fanning told the News & Reporter last week Underwood received the salary she should have earned because her suspension was not in fact the punishment meted out by the S.C. Supreme Court and the S.C. Judicial Department. She was suspended in May of 2015 while a possible conflict of interest matter (see related story) was investigated, and once court administration found she had violated procedures, the prescription for her getting back on the bench was to admit she had proceeded incorrectly and accept public censure from the Court and a suspension, which was imposed retroactively to the date she was suspended during the investigation. In effect, she was suspended, but not suspended without pay, Fanning pointed out.

“The suspension that ended up being for a year was not a prospective punishment of a magistrate, it was the court administration taking a year to investigate and reach a conclusion,” he said.

“There was no conclusion by the court that she would never be paid for that suspension,” he said.

The order from the S.C. Supreme Court placing Judge Underwood on suspension did state, “Chester County is under no obligation to pay respondent her salary during the suspension.”

Fanning said his “Cliff’s Notes” version of what Underwood’s misconduct was is “she had all of the defendants and gave them the opportunity to get another judge – she made sure that they were aware (she was married to the Chester County Sheriff) and that they had the right to another judge, or they could waive that right. The only thing she didn’t do, was do that individually before each case,” said Fanning.

He pointed out the court administration made the decision that this misconduct did not rise to the level of negligence enough to warrant any major imposition of discipline or any other punishments (including loss of pay while she was suspended during the investigation).

“Since it took a year, the court said since she had already been suspended for a year, that would suffice as a discipline, if she signed a statement saying she accepted public reprimand and wouldn’t do it again,” said Fanning.

Underwood’s suspension was lifted in September of 2016 after she accepted a public reprimand and according to the order from the state Supreme Court, “admitted her misconduct and (consented) to the imposition of any discipline up to a one year suspension from judicial duties. She requests that any suspension be imposed retroactively to May 8, 2015, the date of her interim suspension. We accept the agreement and impose a public reprimand.”

Fanning added he was not involved in getting Judge Underwood her back pay or state retirement or any state reimbursements.

“I would have been for (her receiving her back pay) but I don’t necessarily have any power to do that,” Fanning said.

Fanning pointed out that in January of 2017, when Chester County Supervisor Shane Stuart wrote in the email that he was going to ask the Senator to see if there were state reimbursements for Judge Underwood, he had not even taken his first vote in the legislature as a new Senator.

“I was the one that was responsible for making the recommendation that she be reinstated,” he said. “That was under my purview – they had to go through an investigation and at the end of the investigation…I made a recommendation upon the conclusion of the investigation that she be reinstated,” he said.

“If I got her reinstated and we were talking about getting her pay before I ever took a single vote in the Senate, I think I’d remember that,” he said.

He added, “But I would have wanted the county to take whatever measures to pay a magistrate that had been reinstated, and if they needed to prepare for that (in the budget) then I would have given them a heads up on that.

“I try to do that with anybody – if we’re hiring a new Veterans Affairs Director for Fairfield County, I try to give the county whatever warning that they’re going to have a new employee,” he said.

“There’s no way Judge Underwood got back pay before she was reinstated,” Fanning added.


This story was reprinted with permission from The Chester News & Reporter.