A Charleston County magistrate has received a public reprimand for the way she handled the trial of a defendant found guilty in absentia.
The reprimand released Monday cited Mary Brown Holmes, who works out of the Ravenel/Adams Run Area Magistrate Court. In the reprimand agreement with the state's Office of Disciplinary Counsel, Brown admitted to the misconduct and consented to the public notice.
The case involved a woman charged with simple assault who failed to appear for trial. Brown found the defendant guilty in her absence without any witness being present to offer any testimony under oath. Instead, Brown found the defendant guilty based upon a responding officer's written statements and witness forms.
The defendant was then sent a letter explaining she'd been found guilty in her absence and fined $1,092, the amount to be paid within 15 days or she would be required to serve 30 days in jail.
Brown said she sent the letter "to get the defendant's attention" and find out why she had not appeared at trial. She intended to set the conviction aside once she heard from the woman, Brown said.
The woman reported that she did not appear for trial because she thought the county attorney was going to dismiss the case. Brown set aside the conviction and ordered a new court date.
Brown "regrets her error," the reprimand notice reads. "She now recognizes that she erred in finding the defendant guilty in absentia and that she should not have proceeded to trial without either party being present."