Judges from neighboring Greenville County could help the short-staffed Laurens County Magistrate’s Office work through its caseload as state leaders attempt to fill vacant positions in the office.
Laurens County Chief Magistrate Leesa Inabinet died May 31 in Laurens, leaving an already taxed office without a leader and another opening on the bench. By the end of the month, the magistrate’s office will have three vacancies on the bench.
“The governor makes the appointments, and I don’t know that there’s anything we can do immediately,” said Sen. Danny Verdin (R-Laurens). “I’m checking with the courts administration and the chief justice as we speak to see what we can do to alleviate the strain on the office.”
Verdin said it is unclear whether or not the governor’s office can make appointments with the General Assembly out of session, but that is one of the questions he is asking.
In addition to the opening created by Inabinet’s death, the magistrate’s office has been without the services of Mareno Foggie, who was suspended after being arrested and charged with operating a marijuana growing facility in Abbeville County in July of 2018.
Verdin said Gov. Henry McMaster terminated Foggie on May 5, leaving another opening in the office.
That coupled with the impending retirement of Judge Thomas L. Copeland on June 25 puts the office in somewhat dire straits, even with the swearing in of new Judge Tracy Richards, who completed her training but must sit in on court as an observer before taking the bench herself.
“The Greenville County magistrates, especially the ones in closer proximity to Laurens County are already in the saddle and working with our office,” Verdin said. “I’ve been told that anything their office can do to help out the Laurens office over the next few months, they’ll do.”
Laurens County Administrator Jone Caime said the local office has pulled together following Inabinet’s passing.
“We’ve been operating with a down number of judges for quite a while now,” Caime said. “We look forward to getting (Richards) on board, and everybody else on the team will help support her.”
The mantle of leadership in the magistrate’s office has fallen at least temporarily onto Associate Chief Magistrate Dirk J. Bron, Jr.
“I’ve spoken with Judge Bron, and he assured me they will shoulder the task and serve the people of Laurens County with the same efficiency and same commitment that Chief Magistrate Inabinet brought to the county,” Verdin said.