The outcome of the suspension of Dorchester County magistrate Arthur Bryngelson Jr. is not likely to be resolved for months and the public might not ever hear what the complaint is.
But the matter is serious. In 2010, about 1,450 complaints were filed against judges or attorneys in the state. Only 20 spurred an interim suspension order from the S.C. Supreme Court, said state Disciplinary Counsel Lesley M. Coggiola.
"They do not do that lightly. They only do it when something serious is going on," she said.
The court has ordered Bryngelson on an interim suspension for "other misconduct or incapacity," and told him to turn over his records. In contrast to a suspension because of a criminal charge, "other misconduct" concerns evidence that a judge poses a substantial threat of serious harm to the public or to administering justice, according to state law.
Bryngelson resigned from the post Friday. When asked about the matter earlier this week, he said, "We're trying to work it out, I'll leave it at that." He didn't expect to return to the magistrate court, he said.
The county's Chief Magistrate Katrina Patton would not comment on the suspension, except to say it was not related to an audit of the court requested by County Council about four months ago. The audit found no improprieties. Duties have been shifted to keep Bryngelson's suspension from disrupting court proceedings, she said. He is one of 12 county magistrates.
An investigation of the matter is underway, Coggiola confirmed. Non-criminal matter investigations normally are resolved by an "agreement" between the accused and the court that can include a range of sanctions, she said. The agreement would be reviewed by the state Judicial Commission, which will not meet again until March 2012 at the earliest.
At that point, it would be made public. Otherwise, it's treated as a confidential matter, she said. Some three of every four complaints filed against judges or attorneys in a given year are dismissed, she said, and those complaints are not made public. But in the case of Supreme Court order, a dismissal is "very, very unlikely," she said.