York Co. magistrate, former Panther not re-appointed. Says ‘I was caught off guard’

Former Carolina Panthers football player Michael Scurlock of Fort Mill has not been re-appointed to serve as a York County magistrate judge, members of the South Carolina Senate delegation said.

Scurlock, 51, had been a magistrate judge since he was appointed in 2017.

Scurlock played five seasons in the NFL, ending his career in Charlotte with the Panthers in 2000. After retiring from football, Scurlock was a York County Sheriff’s Office deputy, handling public information and other duties, before resigning when he planned a run for sheriff in 2016.

S.C. State Senator Wes Climer, R-Rock Hill, told The Herald Tuesday afternoon that all four members of the York County Senate delegation agreed to replace Scurlock on the bench.

In recent years, Scurlock was the judge for the Catawba/Ebenezer magistrate office in Rock Hill, which is the busiest magistrate court in York County.

“The senatorial delegation decided to move that court in a different direction,” Climer told The Herald in a phone interview Tuesday.

Climer did not give any other specifics about the decision. Climer said he told Scurlock of the decision Tuesday.

All the other York County magistrate judges up for re-appointment were re-appointed earlier this month, Climer said.

The public does not pick magistrate judges in South Carolina.

Magistrate candidates in South Carolina are picked by state senators, who then send recommendations to the governor. If the governor approves, then the full senate votes for magistrates.

Sen. Michael Johnson, R-Fort Mill, confirmed to The Herald that Scurlock was not re-appointed. It was Climer who nominated Scurlock in 2017 to become a judge.

‘Caught off-guard’: Scurlock

Judge Scurlock told The Herald in a phone interview he was hurt by the decision not to re-appoint him.

Scurlock said he was unaware that political leaders had not submitted him to the governor and full senate for another term as a judge.

“It is very hurtful and I was caught off guard,” Scurlock said Tuesday afternoon.

Scurlock said in his time as a judge he was committed to being fair to all people. Scurlock said he believed he did his best in his six years on the bench.

“I did a job to show that I was true, fair and just to the public,” Scurlock said.

Scurlock said he did not fault anyone, and was happy to have had the opportunity to serve.

“I feel like I did my best,” Scurlock said. “It’s tough.”

Scurlock had one trial as judge that received national coverage in 2022. Scurlock was the judge for the trial of former Rock Hill Police Department officer Jonathan Moreno who was accused of assault and battery in the arrest of a Black man in 2021. Moreno was acquitted when a jury found him not guilty.

Scurlock is one of two African-American magistrate judges in York County among the 10 magistrate judges. Several York County Black leaders complained in 2016 about the lack of diversity and ability to move up on the magistrate bench.

Since then, two African-American women were appointed magistrates. Chisa Putman left to become a prosecutor, and Tracy Bomar-Howze is currently the chief magistrate for York County.

How magistrate seats work

Scurlock graduated from the University of Arizona. Magistrates appointed since 2005 in South Carolina have to be a college graduate but are not required to be lawyers.

Climer acknowledged that officials are urged to select lawyers when possible.

Some of York County’s other magistrates are lawyers, and some are not.

Under South Carolina law, choosing magistrates is political because the nominations come from sitting senators for the county.

Magistrates handle misdemeanor criminal court and civil court. Magistrates set bonds and bail conditions, issue arrest and search warrants, preside over preliminary hearings, and other functions.

What happens now?

Climer said that Scurlock could remain a judge during a holdover period until a successor is named to fill the slot.

Yet Scurlock told The Herald he likely would leave the position quickly.

“It is unfair for me to begrudgingly stay on,” Scurlock said.

Climer said that he has submitted a potential candidate for the soon to be vacant slot who is a female lawyer with decades of legal and military law experience. Climer declined to name that person.

Climer said he has sent that candidate’s qualifications to Michael Johnson, Mike Fanning and Harvey Peeler, who are the other members of York County’s state senate delegation. Johnson and Peeler are Republicans, while Fanning is a Democrat.

Climer said the delegation could potentially send a nomination for a new person to S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster by next week.

Another magistrate slot will likely open up in York County this summer with the mandatory retirement of Magistrate Judge Lynne Benfield. All judges in South Carolina must retire at age 72, Climer said.