Gerald T. Whitley Jr. – the chief magistrate judge in Horry County who has served on the bench for more than two decades – told state officials this week that he is retiring before the end of his term, according to Rosalyn Frierson, director of S.C. Court Administration in Columbia.
“We have received verbal confirmation that he has submitted his retirement,” Frierson said. That confirmation was received on Monday.
Horry County spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said the county’s human resources department has not yet received a formal letter of retirement from Whitley.
Whitley, 60, has not returned several telephone and email messages left for him by The Sun News over the past week. Whitley, who was first appointed to a magistrate position in 1985, had been re-appointed last year by Gov. Nikki Haley. His latest term was not set to expire until April 2015.
State senators from the county where a judge presides nominate magistrates and the governor makes the appointments. Frierson said a replacement for Whitley probably would not be made until the next legislative session which begins on Jan. 8. In the interim, Jean Toal -- chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court -- this week appointed Margie Livingston as chief magistrate for Horry County. That appointment expires on Dec. 31, according to an order Toal signed on Tuesday.
It is not clear why Whitley is retiring before the end of his term.
His retirement came one day after The Sun News published a story about mortgage problems at a North Myrtle Beach townhouse project he co-developed with Grover “Bubba” Rabon III in 2007-08 called Charleston on Edge. Public documents show most of the units at that project were sold to out-of-state buyers for prices far higher than market value. Those buyers made only a few payments on their mortgages before defaulting on the loans. Banks lost more than $2 million on loans at the seven-unit property, court records show.
Rabon told The Sun News last week that Darin Epps, a former mortgage broker and owner of Dunes Mortgage in Myrtle Beach, arranged the loans for the out-of-state buyers. Epps is serving a 33-month federal prison sentence for mortgage fraud at other projects where he arranged loans.
No indictments have been issued related to Charleston on Edge and it is not clear whether the project is the focus of any criminal investigation. Greg McCollum, a Myrtle Beach lawyer representing Whitley, told The Sun News last week that Whitley did not know any of the townhome purchasers and was not involved in any of the mortgage transactions. His only role, McCollum said, was as seller of the properties.
Whitley, a Little River resident, started his career in law enforcement in 1973 as a patrol officer for the North Myrtle Beach Police Department, eventually leaving that department as a corporal in 1980. He worked for the Horry County Police Department from 1983 until 1985, when he was first appointed as a magistrate judge. Whitley left the bench briefly in 1994 to become the interim police chief in Horry County. He was passed over for the permanent police chief job the following year and was re-appointed as a magistrate judge, where he has served ever since.
There are about 300 magistrates in South Carolina, including nine in Horry County and five in Georgetown County. Magistrates generally have jurisdiction over criminal offenses where the punishment is no greater than a $500 fine and a 30-day jail sentence. They also have jurisdiction over civil matters in which the contested amount is no greater than $7,500.
Whitley most recently made news when he ruled earlier this month that 24 video gaming machines seized from a Little River business by Horry County police should be destroyed because they are illegal gaming machines. Such machines are increasing in popularity statewide despite a statewide ban on video poker machines in 2001. Operators of the newer machines say they are not illegal because they promote products or services, such as the purchase of long-distance telephone minutes, and are programmed to allow a set number of winners, unlike games of chance.
In addition to his legal work and co-development of the Charleston on Edge project, Whitley has been the registered agent for Boog-a-Loo Concessions LLC since 2001, according to S.C. Secretary of State records. It is not clear what type of business that Boog-a-Loo Concessions conducts.
Contact DAVID WREN at 626-0281.