Article published November 18, 1997
Solicitor's Office, judge spar over jail crowdingBy CHASE SQUIRES
A County Council meeting Monday about chronic jail overcrowding stalled amid swapped accusations between the Solicitor's Office and Circuit Court Judge Don Beatty.
Council set out to consider hiring a consultant to study what's causing the buildup of prisoners at the Spartanburg County jail. But the discussion never got that far. Solicitor's Office administrator Johnny Dyer told council he had been reluctant to go public with the Solicitor's Office complaints about Beatty, but said the council's questions compelled him to speak out. Beatty has repeatedly refused to hear guilty pleas, which could help ease jail crowding, because he considers pleas "boring," Dyer told council. Beatty countered, saying prosecutors weren't as prepared to present cases as they claimed and have a personal vendetta against him and want to keep him from hearing trials. "They don't like me serving as a judge because I don't let them run my court," Beatty told council. "They are doing everything in their power to blacklist me with lies, innuendo and anything else." He said Solicitor Holman Gossett leaves suspects in jail as long as he can to "sweat" pleas out of them. "I don't work for the Solicitor's Office. I don't work for the police. I don't work for the defense. I'm a judge," he said. "I'm not going to ask a solicitor 'What do you want me to do?' and then rubber stamp it." Tensions have simmered between Beatty and the Solicitor's Office since he was installed in August of 1995. In December of that year, Deputy Solicitor Anthony Mabry accused the judge of conspiring with defense attorneys to lower a bond. In 1996, Beatty sent a sheriff's deputy to bring Gossett to his courtroom. They clashed again that year when the judge dismissed a case against a suspect, then reconsidered and sentenced him to 30 seconds in state custody, blocking the prosecution's route to appeal a dismissal. Two issues lie at the base of Monday's meeting. On one side, law enforcement and judicial authorities need to find a solution to overcrowding at the Spartanburg County jail. Daily jail population has jumped from 167 in 1990 to 685 this year. The jail and its annexes passed the 700-inmate level this month for the first time. On the other side is the dispute between Beatty and Gossett and the Solicitor's Office prosecutors. Beatty is the only judge scheduled to hear Spartanburg Circuit Court cases this month. Prosecutors must deal with him to close cases, either freeing suspects or sending them on to state prison, out of Spartanburg's jail. Beatty said prosecutors aren't cooperating with him and refuse to discuss the docket in advance. Dyer said Beatty refuses to hear guilty pleas or work a full schedule. Dyer told council that last week Beatty accepted two pleas Monday, didn't work on Tuesday, accepted three pleas Wednesday then quit at 3:55 p.m., and wouldn't take any more pleas for the rest of the week. "We had 'em stacked like cordwood ready to go to court," Dyer said. Beatty said he handled 22 pleas last week and pointed out that last Tuesday was Veterans Day - a state holiday. He said he wanted to meet with prosecutors to set pleas for the first part of the week, so jurors wouldn't be waiting around for cases that would never come up. "Juries are often sitting around the court with nothing to do because (prosecutors) can't get their act together, and that's because they've got someone who has no idea about the system running the docket, namely Johnny Dyer," Beatty said. "They are trying to put their problems on someone else's back." Both sides said they had statistics to prove they are effective. Dyer presented state records showing Gossett leads the way in bringing suspects to swift justice. Beatty said state Division of Court Administration records show he heard more cases than average judges last year. Councilman David Britt said before council could attack the jail overcrowding issue, there needed to be some peace between judges and prosecutors. "It's explosive right now," Britt said. "If we had a problem before, we have a bigger problem now." Council is slated to tackle the issue of jail overcrowding again today in a special 4 p.m. meeting at the County Administration Building.