Beaufort News

Elected officials slow to judge Beaufort jurist

Members of Beaufort City Council, including Mayor Billy Keyserling, say they aren't rushing to judgment over an incident Saturday between police officers and an assistant municipal court judge who, according to an officer's account, appeared to be intoxicated.

Councilmen Gary Fordham and Mike McFee said they needed more information before deciding whether to discipline Beaufort Municipal Court Judge Mary Sharp for "nudging" a Beaufort police officer in the chest Saturday night near the former Lipsitz Department Store on Bay Street.

Sharp apparently walked away from the dispute and into a nearby restaurant and was not arrested.

"It looks real weird," Fordham said. "It's not the kind of thing you ought to be hearing about in connection with an associate judge. It doesn't sound good."

"I'd like to hear what she has to say, and I'm sure we will," McFee added.

Sharp did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

Councilwoman Donnie Beer and Councilman Mike Sutton could not be reached for comment.Police officers were called to Bay Street at about 9 p.m. Saturday to reports of an intoxicated woman matching Sharp's description lying on the ground.

Sharp had difficulty walking, and the officers had to shout and shine a flashlight on her to keep her attention, they reported to the Beaufort County Dispatch Center.

The report said Sharp reportedly grew agitated and nudged an officer several times before calling fellow Municipal Court Judge Ned Tupper from a nearby restaurant to pick her up.Tupper did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

Officers determined Sharp's actions did not warrant arrest, said Deputy Police Chief Dale McDorman.

Keyserling said Sharp appears guilty only of a "lapse in judgment" but said city officials plan to review the incident.

"Seems like she ... may have had a little too much to drink and called someone to take her home," Keyserling said. "There are two things we need to address: If people feel like she was given special treatment ... that is an issue. Also, how does she feel about being a judge after being embarrassed publicly?"

McDorman said Sharp did not receive preferential treatment and added Sharp never mentioned she was a judge or attempted to influence or intimidate officers at the scene.

Sharp was first appointed by City Council to serve as assistant municipal court judge in May 2000, according to the city's website.

She was re-appointed to another two-year term in March 2009 and was paid $27,000 this year, according to city manager Scott Dadson.

Municipal Court judges preside over cases involving municipal ordinance violations and trials of defendants charged with criminal offenses subject to a fine of less than $500 or a jail sentence of fewer than 30 days.

Though she was not arrested Saturday, Sharp could be punished by the S.C. Commission on Judicial Conduct, which investigates complaints of misconduct against state judges.

"Generally speaking, we can take a look into something even if no charges have been filed," said Lesley Coggiola, disciplinary counsel for the 26-member commission.

Coggiola declined to say whether the commission would look into Saturday's incident.