South Carolina high court scolds former Aiken judge for kiss

COLUMBIA — Don’t show your professional gratitude by kissing an employee.

The South Carolina Supreme Court has issued a reprimand of a former Aiken County magistrate for making that mistake.

Donald Louis Hatcher admitted to kissing a clerk on the forehead at the end of a bond court session more than a year ago. He said the kiss wasn’t intended to be a romantic gesture and was only to show appreciation for the clerk’s hard work, according to the court’s reprimand, which was made public Wednesday.

Still, said the court, Hatcher “recognizes the clerk was offended by the gesture. (He) maintains he never would have intentionally offended the clerk, but acknowledges it was inappropriate for him to kiss a subordinate on the forehead.”

The clerk had complained about the incident to the chief magistrate, and Hatcher then resigned. His resignation took place in June 2012, according to records. The date of the offending kiss was not made public by the Office of Disciplinary Council, nor were other details provided.

In the agreement reached with the court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel, Hatcher admitted his behavior violated several judicial canons, including one that requires judges to “be patient, dignified and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers and others” whom they interact with on the job.

South Carolina has about 300 magistrates, who are appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the state Senate to serve a specific county. The judges are not required to be lawyers but must pass a certification examination within one year of their appointment. They set bail, conduct preliminary hearings, and issuing arrest and search warrants. The judges also have civil jurisdiction over disputes with less than $7,500 at stake and handle cases involving property damage and landlord-tenant disagreements.

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