Abbeville Sheriff arrest raises questions about courthouse corruption

Yesterday, Abbeville County Sheriff Charles Goodwin was charged with misconduct in office. This is related to allegations of a kickback scheme related to work performed on county cars from 1998 to 2011.

Goodwin wouldn't be the only Sheriff busted in recent years. Former Lee County Sheriff E.J. Melvin was nabbed by the feds for his role in a Lee County drug ring, former Union County Sheriff Howard Wells was convicted for lying to federal officials while former Saluda County Sheriff Jason Booth was found guilty of misconduct in office for using inmate labor on his personal property.

But Sheriffs aren't the only courthouse officials who are getting into trouble around the state, raising questions about conduct by elected courthouse officials - and who is watching them.

Several counties have had their Clerks of Court nailed in recent years for various offenses - Beaufort, Spartanburg, and Union - along with the associate Probate Judge in Newberry County and a former Supervisor (elected county executive) in Union County. Many of these charges have involved those abusing the powers of their offices, which should raise questions about the level of scrutiny placed upon courthouse officials.

Go back farther and you'll find other courthouse officials who were removed from office over misconduct in office. It's nothing new to the state.

Dorchester County Treasurer Mary Pearson, who is in her third term in office, cautioned that sometimes the prestige of a courthouse office can go to one's head:

When you’re in such an office, the power can go to your head and you think you can do anything. Some people are not in the job for the service, they’re in it for the glory and with it goes the power.

Sixteenth Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett, who prosecuted the former Union County Clerk of Court case, noted that "every time you look into these kinds of cases, you find where you could increase oversight", but then warned that, in the case of Sheriffs who've gotten in trouble for misusing inmate labor "it’s hard to keep track of that from the outside, but eventually someone is going to find out."

Pearson observed that the problems faced by some courthouse officials were rare among county Auditors and Treasurers, explaining that "we (Auditors and Treasurers) are very low key and there are a lot of laws, rules and oversight about what we have to do. We can’t bend the rules."

Given the long history of problems with bad apples in county courthouses, the issues of oversight and accountability for courthouse elected officials are worth looking into. But the Blogland's asked this question before. The arrests keep coming and nothing seems to be changing.

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