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SC Supreme Court reprimands ex-Charleston judge who tried to get tickets dismissed

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Municipal Judge Joe Mendelsohn presides over a 2014 court session in Charleston. Now retired, he was reprimanded by the state Supreme Court on March 31, 2021, for helping a friend and a relative get out of traffic tickets. File/Staff 

A former Charleston municipal judge has been publicly reprimanded by the state Supreme Court for fixing traffic tickets, one for a friend and another for a brother-in-law.

Joseph Sidney Mendelsohn, who is now retired, agreed his actions constituted professional misconduct.

According to court records, Mendelsohn twice interfered with the magistrate court's normal process for adjudicating traffic tickets.

The former judge did not dispute the high court's findings, according to the disciplinary action that was released by the Supreme Court on March 31.

The court did not identify whose tickets Mendelsohn helped out, using only initials in their report: J.T. for the first case and P.K. for the second.

Those identities were not immediately available, but The Post and Courier has filed Freedom of Information Act requests for those records after a police spokesman initially asked for the document so the department could proceed and a court clerk required the request to search for the records. 

In the first case involving J.T., Mendelsohn filled out a traffic ticket on Feb. 13, 2019 — a day before the ticketed motorist was scheduled to appear at trial on the citation. He told the docket clerk the recipient was a friend. Mendelsohn checked the boxes for "trial judge," "appeared," "not guilty" and "municipal court."

Mendelsohn then signed his own name on the ticket, dating it Feb. 14 — the next day when the recipient was scheduled to appear in court before Judge Alesia Rico Flores.

Records indicate when Flores read over the ticket, she found a note attached: "Mendelsohn disposed of ticket."

A few days later, Mendelsohn reportedly circumvented the ticket process again, the Supreme Court determined.

This time, in the case involving P.K., who the Supreme Court noted was Mendelsohn's brother-in-law, he sent a Charleston police officer whose last name was Coghlan a note reading, "Mr. Coghlan, can you see your way clear to a dismissal?"

The note was attached to a February 2019 traffic ticket.

Both tickets were issued for the traffic snarl at 404 Calhoun St., where the James Island connector spills onto the peninsula. During rush hour, Mendelsohn noted that drivers often crossed portions of the road illegally to avoid being rear-ended.

In issuing the reprimand, the court noted it was the most severe punishment they could pursue since Mendelsohn no longer serves on the bench.

Mendelsohn couldn't be reached for comment. This was not his first reprimand.

In 2003, Mendelsohn was arrested in Mount Pleasant after a traffic stop on his way home from a wedding in Georgetown. A police officer noticed his 2001 Acura with the vanity tag "Joe M" swerving and braking for no apparent reason on U.S. 17. The judge, on the bench since January 1978, refused to take a alcohol breath test and was taken into custody. An open bottle of whiskey was found in his back seat.

He was released later than night after first being ordered by a town judge to the county jail, contacting another judge to sign his release order and then having the jail process that order. 

Mendelsohn pleaded guilty to the DUI case and apologized for his "indiscretion." 

But when he circumvented the initial town judge's decision to have him spend a night at jail, Mendelsohn set up a misconduct case against himself and the other judge, Magistrate James B. Gosnell, who both were reprimanded by the state Supreme Court in 2005. 

"I am very sorry for my indiscretion," he told Mount Pleasant Municipal Court Judge Dale DuTremble. By admitting his guilt to the misdemeanor charge, Mendelsohn said, "I am trying to do the right thing and put this behind me."

Reach Sara Coello at 843-901-2995 and follow her on Twitter @smlcoello.

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