The S.C. Supreme Court has suspended a Newberry County magistrate involved in what police said was a head-butting, eye-gouging and crotch-grabbing fight during a meeting of the Newberry Cotillion Club.
The suspension of Magistrate Gordon Blackwell Johnson will last 45 days, the Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous opinion released Wednesday.
The two-page opinion gave few details of the fracas, in which bystanders had to pry Johnson off a man he was apparently getting the best of in what was apparently a wild, anything-goes fight.
But The State newspaper obtained a police incident report of the Feb. 9, 2016, matter from the Newberry police department.
The report, written by an officer who interviewed witnesses, including the man whom Johnson struck, said Johnson and another man first exchanged heated words.
Then, “Mr. Johnson jumped out of his seat and began assaulting him by head butting him, hitting him with his fist, and trying to gouge his eyes out,” the report said.
“While he was being assaulted, he grabbed Mr. Johnson by his (crotch) in hopes that it would get him off of him” but Johnson “kept attacking him,” the police report said. Meanwhile, other men were trying to pull Johnson off the man.
“Both (Johnson) and the other attendee suffered minor injuries during the altercation,” the Supreme Court’s opinion said.
The man Johnson was allegedly pummeling was not identified in the ruling. Nor was he identified in the police report.
The Supreme Court’s two-page opinion noted that magistrates, judges who deal with relatively small civil and criminal matters, must conform to the “high standards of conduct” expected of judges.
The fact that the fight took place outside the courtroom did not make the magistrate immune from discipline.
Judges “shall conduct all of judge’s extra-judicial activities so that they do not demean the judicial office,” the high court ruled.
Johnson has agreed to the punishment, the ruling said. His attorney, Steedley Bogan, was not immediately available for comment.
Magistrates are judges who handle relatively small crimes with penalties not exceeding $500, and civil disputes on matters up to $7,500. They also issue search warrants. There are 317 magistrates in the state.
The opinion did not say what caused the altercation and gave no hint of the apparent viciousness of the fight.