Complaint dismissed against Underwood

CHESTER – Following an investigation, the office of Disciplinary Counsel for the S.C. Supreme Court has dismissed a complaint filed against Chester County Magistrate Angel Underwood by Chester County Sheriff Max Dorsey, for judicial misconduct, in which Dorsey expressed his concerns about Judge Underwood presiding over cases the Sheriff’s Office was part of.

In an UNCOVERED segment with The Post & Courier in July of this year, the Chester News & Reporter reported that Dorsey filed the complaint against Underwood. In a letter to Dorsey dated October 12, Deputy Disciplinary Counsel Carey Taylor Markel stated that the office “had determined that there is no evidence of any judicial misconduct on the part of Judge Underwood arising out of the matters mentioned in your complaint and that further investigation would not likely reveal any such evidence.”

The office further informed Dorsey that the Counsel intends to dismiss the complaint. According to the UNCOVERED story, in the initial complaint, Dorsey alleged Underwood (who at the time was the county’s chief magistrate) had a bias against the Chester County Sheriff’s Office since the ouster of her husband, former Sheriff Alex Underwood, who was suspended from office after facing federal indictments. Dorsey was appointed sheriff by Gov. Henry McMaster in May of 2019. He then defeated Alex Underwood (who had not gone to trial at that point and was thus still eligible to run) in last November’s General Election, earning himself a full, four-year term.

Alex Underwood was found guilty on seven counts in April and is still awaiting sentencing. In a move unrelated to the complaint, Jeffrey Garis was appointed the chief magistrate by S.C. Supreme Court Justice William Beatty in early July. Chief magistrate appointments are done at the sole discretion of the chief justice and Beatty appointed new individuals to those posts in 28 of the state’s 46 counties this year.

Still, for weeks after her husband’s trial, magistrates under Underwood’s supervision remained tasked with considering criminal warrants submitted by Dorsey’s department. In an interview for the UNCOVERED story, Dorsey questioned why those judges had rejected what the sheriff considered to be some legitimate requests.

Per that story, records from one case, obtained by the newspaper through an open-records request, show a deputy magistrate denied an arrest warrant for a man who published several Facebook posts calling for Chester police and sheriff’s deputies to be killed. In another, a magistrate rejected a warrant request for a man who allegedly trespassed onto a woman’s property, exposed himself to her and then peed on her husband’s truck.

 “I can’t think of another reason why they would be rejected,” Dorsey said at the time.

Still, the letter cites a lack of specificity about any punishable action or inaction by Underwood.

“In your complaint, you allege that since you became Sheriff in January 2021, Magistrate Angel Catina Underwood should not preside over cases in which the Sheriff’s department is a party. As we discussed when we spoke on the phone in September, you did not identify any specific incidents or cases which caused you concern nor any specific conduct that Magistrate Underwood engaged in (or failed to engage in) which caused you concern. As you acknowledged when we spoke, your concerns were general and speculative in nature…This office has determined that there is no evidence of any judicial misconduct on the part of Judge Underwood arising out of the matters mentioned in your complaint and that further investigation would not likely reveal any such evidence.”

Markel informed Dorsey that he may seek a review of the decision by an investigative panel of the Commission on Judicial Conduct, but must do so in writing by Nov. 11. If Dorsey requests a panel review, Judge Underwood is also given an opportunity to respond, and both Dorsey’s request and Judge Underwood’s response would be considered at the next meeting of the investigative panel, Markel said.

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