Sea Pines property owners association responds to Judge Coffey's lawsuit

December 26, 2008 

The Sea Pines property owners association in charge of the plantation's private security team forcefully responded to Hilton Head Island municipal court Judge Maureen Coffey's lawsuit this week, painting her as unable to be impartial after her brother was suspected in two rashes of home break-ins.

Coffey filed the suit against Community Services Associates and Sea Pines security chief George Breed on Nov. 20, alleging Breed began a pattern of harassing conduct designed to jail her adopted brother Otis Coffey and have her removed as town judge.

CSA lodged a formal complaint against Judge Coffey in June. The complaint was investigated by the S.C. Supreme Court's Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which dismissed it.

In its response, CSA argued Coffey's lawsuit is without merit because a section of Rule 501 of the South Carolina Appellate Court Rules prohibits judges from filing civil lawsuits against people for lodging complaints against them.

The issue of Judge Coffey's impartiality came to a head on May 21, when security officers tried to call her mother because a vehicle was parked along the narrow street in front of her Sea Pines home, according to CSA.

After an hour of no response, officers returned to the home with a tow truck. Otis Coffey and his mother, Ann Coffey, emerged from the home. Ann Coffey was given a parking ticket.

During that process, Ann Coffey asked the officer if he was new to the force, according to CSA. When the officer said he had been working for Sea Pines for many years, Ann Coffey allegedly replied, "You do know who the judge is don't you -- my daughter."

That apparently prompted CSA to lodge its complaint against Coffey. In August, the town began using Beaufort municipal court Judge Ned Tupper to hear cases involving Sea Pines until the legal dispute between Coffey and CSA is settled.

Judge Coffey could not be reached for comment on her cell phone Wednesday.

In the 11-page answer to Judge Coffey's lawsuit, CSA also explained why Otis Coffey was considered a suspect in several spurts of Sea Pines burglaries at the end of 2004 and again in February 2008.

According to the response, the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office first identified Otis Coffey as a suspect in 2004. Capt. Toby McSwain informed Judge Coffey of that, and she replied that she would have her brother leave town. Shortly after that meeting, the burglaries stopped, according to the response. No charges were ever filed.

But the plantation faced a similar set of break-ins in February 2008, in which the "route of travel, target homes, times, dates and method of operation used by the burglar or burglars closely tracked those used in the 2004 robberies for which Coffey was named the primary suspect," according to CSA.

CSA allegedly learned Otis Coffey had returned to live in Sea Pines in February 2008, which coincided with the increase in reported burglaries. No charges in those burglaries have been filed.

The Coffey family has lived in Sea Pines since 1980. Maureen Coffey's parents had three children of their own and adopted two black siblings, Otis and his younger brother, Christopher. Otis and Christopher are among the few black people living in Sea Pines, according to Coffey's lawsuit.

County court records show Otis Coffey pled guilty to counts of marijuana possession in 1988, 1990 and 1991.

According to police reports on file with the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, Coffey was found near golf carts stolen from a cart shed at the Sea Pines Club Course Golf Club early in the morning on Nov. 1, 1987. When he was taken to jail, a guard found a small bag of marijuana and a pipe hidden in his underwear, the report said. Burglary and malicious injury to property charges related to that arrest were dropped by prosecutors.

The second drug charge stemmed from an incident on Feb. 3, 1988 when Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, who was then an undercover narcotics detective, allegedly bought an ounce of marijuana from Coffey and another man in the parking lot of the McDonald's on New Orleans Road.

Coffey was initially charged with distribution of marijuana and conspiracy to distribute marijuana, but those charges were reduced to the possession charge.

Details of the third incident were not legible from a copy of the original police report.

Coffey also faced four counts of burglary and three counts of larceny in 1992 for allegedly breaking into Sea Pines homes with another man. Those charges were all dropped by prosecutors.

The 40-year-old has not faced significant criminal charges since.

Maureen Coffey became an associate municipal court judge for the Town of Hilton Head Island in December 2000. She was promoted to full-time judge in February 2005.

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