Angel Underwood suspended again

Then-Chester County Chief Magistrate Angel Underwood is sworn in by County Clerk of Court Sue Carpenter. | Brian Garner/Chester News & Reporter

CHESTER COUNTY – Chester County magistrate Angel Underwood has been suspended for a second time in her decade-long career – this time for improperly using her judicial email account to issue instructions to employees in the Chester County Sheriff’s Office while her husband served as Sheriff.  

The high court announced May 25, 2022, that “In light of Underwood’s disciplinary history, we find a suspension from judicial duties is appropriate.”

The suspension is for six months.

Investigators say Underwood accessed the Sheriff’s Department Facebook page to retrieve citizen complaints. She then forwarded those complaints through her judicial email account to Sheriff’s Department employees requesting they take certain actions in response to the complaints that included drug activity, trash and noise complaints.

Her emails included a signature block in which she identified herself as a Chester County Magistrate and listed the address and telephone number for the magistrate’s court.

Investigators found that, in 2018, Underwood assisted her husband with drafting a disciplinary action concerning a Sheriff’s Department employee.

She “used her judicial email account to forward the draft of the disciplinary action to her husband for his review,” investigators said.

That same year, Underwood prepared a letter for the Sheriff’s Department in which the Community Services Division recommended a student for a scholarship. Using her judicial email account, Underwood emailed the Sheriff’s Department staff directing them to place the letter on the Sheriff’s Department letterhead and to place the letter in a Sheriff’s Department envelope.

These actions blurred the boundaries between her role as an independent and impartial magistrate and someone acting on behalf of the Sheriff’s Department, eroding public confidence in the judiciary, the court determined.

The court also found that Underwood’s pattern of conduct with the Sheriff’s Department is “sufficient to create in reasonable minds a perception that her ability to impartially carry out her judicial responsibilities is impaired.”

According to South Carolina law, magistrate judges are to be impartial and not affiliated with law enforcement.

Underwood was previously suspended in 2015 and issued a public reprimand by the S.C. Supreme Court after it was determined that she failed to disqualify herself in over 100 cases brought by her husband’s office.

She was demoted from her position as Chief Magistrate in July, 2021, while she was being investigated for other complaints.

One of those complaints, that Underwood was biased against the Sheriff who was appointed to replace her husband, was dismissed last fall. 

The current suspension covers actions Judge Underwood undertook during 2017 and 2018 while her husband was sheriff.

In spite of her suspension in 2015 and other missteps since then, Underwood was nominated by friend and supporter Sen. Mike Fanning for reappointment in 2019 at a time when he didn’t nominate other incumbent Chester County magistrates for reappointment. Fanning has consistently stood by Underwood, calling her an “outstanding” magistrate.

Judge Underwood’s husband, former Sheriff Alex Underwood, was suspended by S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster in May, 2019 after he was indicted on public corruption and abuse of power charges. The former sheriff, who was first elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2016, lost a reelection bid to current Chester Sheriff Max Dorsey in 2020.

Alex Underwood’s sentencing is pending after a federal jury convicted him in April, 2021 of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and federal program theft, unlawful arrest of a Chester County man in 2018, records show.

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