Letter: Coleman Pushes Back

I read with interest the article by Travis Jenkins in The Voice, dated August 15, 2019, titled “Emails, Waiver Provide Insight into Underwood’s Back Pay.” I specifically want to address County Supervisor Shane Stuart’s comments regarding the back pay of the suspended Magistrate, Angel Underwood, and to further outline my steps as your sitting Senator at that time.

As the Senator of District 17, I was considering a Chester Magistrate appointment for Angel Underwood. In the process of this appointment, it came to my attention that Alex Underwood, husband of Angel Underwood, was perhaps considering a run for Chester County Sheriff. First and foremost, as a lawyer and a Senator, I knew and understood the ramifications these positions could potentially impose on the people of Chester County, if acted on together. It would be a conflict of interest on many levels to have a Magistrate making rulings from cases brought forth from the Sheriff’s Office.

I discussed this potential conflict with both Angel Underwood and Alex Underwood at my law office in Winnsboro. At that time, Alex Underwood assured me that he would NOT run for Sheriff of Chester County, in order that his wife could be appointed as a Magistrate. Well, Alex Underwood did not uphold his agreement and was elected Chester County Sheriff. And, of course, conflicts of interest quickly arose when Magistrate Underwood heard cases from Alex Underwood’s Sheriff’s Office.

In my oath to the people of Senate District 17, I swore to “the best of my ability to discharge the duties thereof, and to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the State of South Carolina.” Subsequently, I was determined to adhere to my Senate oath for the people of District 17 and for my own integrity. I reported these findings to the South Carolina Court Administration. This Administration oversees all Magistrates in South Carolina.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a petition and Angel Underwood was placed under interim suspension on May 8, 2015. The South Carolina Supreme Court issued an Order, Appellate Case No. 2015-000966.The Supreme Court stated, “Chester County is under no obligation to pay respondent her salary during suspension.” On February 14, 2016, the South Carolina Supreme Court, in Opinion No. 27665, issued a Public Reprimand of Angel Underwood. The following are some of the facts included in this reprimand:

Judge Underwood’s judicial code was in use 101 times during Sheriff Underwood’s cases.

Judge Underwood admitted to violating the Code of Judicial Conduct, Rule 501, and Section 3F, of Canon 3.

Judge Underwood admitted her conduct constitutes grounds for discipline.

It is important to note that Travis Jenkins reports that Shane Stuart said he was under the impression at the time that Angel Underwood’s suspension was not due to anything she did or failed to do. In addition, Shane Stuart did not read, or did not understand, that the South Carolina Supreme Court Order placing Angel Underwood on interim suspension required no repayment to her. Perhaps he chose to ignore the Supreme Court ruling. Taxpayers, beware of a Chester County Supervisor who so freely spends such money and oversees a county budget of $22,000,000.00.

Chester County deserves better.

Our judicial system is the fundamental foundation of our nation. I believe it is incumbent on each of us to preserve and protect this foundation.

Respectfully submitted,

Creighton B. Coleman

Winnsboro