City Council shouldn't ignore judge's behavior

The Beaufort City Council's lack of curiosity about the very curious conduct of a municipal judge is disappointing.

Given their indifference, most council members probably will be relieved to learn state judicial rules give them some cover. Although municipal judges are appointed by City Council, the council cannot remove a judge mid-term. Not that any council member has cited this limit.

With one exception, council members seem content to ignore that Mary Sharp was seen by a passerby lying prostrate on a Bay Street sidewalk, according to a dispatch report, suspected by Beaufort police of being intoxicated, witnessed poking her finger into the chest of an officer and allowed to walk away.

Only Councilman Gary Fordham said Sharp should explain herself to the council and the public. And apparently, only Mayor Billy Keyserling has looked further into the incident; he said he met with city manager Scott Dadson to review a report from police Chief Matt Clancy. Keyserling said he "didn't see the need to do anything more."

We'll take the mayor at his word that the responding officers were within their discretion in not arresting the judge or filing an incident report. However, doubts about the appropriateness of Sharp's behavior remain.

Although it is true council cannot remove Sharp from the bench before her term expires in March, it could -- and should -- still act.

According to the Commission on Judicial Conduct, municipal and magistrate judges, as part of the unified judicial system, fall under the S.C. Rules of Court for any disciplinary action. Typically, investigations or inquiries start with a formal complaint. A judge gets a notice of investigation and the opportunity to respond. Ultimately, the decision to remove a judge from the bench falls upon the state Supreme Court.

However, council members, acting individually or collectively, could lodge the complaint that sets this process in motion.

At a minimum, the council should revisit this incident when Sharp's two-year term expires in March.