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Courts: Pawleys wildlife officer in line for magistrate’s job

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A state wildlife officer from Litchfield is in line to become a county magistrate, filling a vacancy that began this week when Alan Walters stepped down to take a job with the Georgetown County School District.

Steve Pop, a sergeant with the Department of Natural Resources, was nominated by state Sen. Ray Cleary, who said that Pop was cleared by the governor’s office last week and passed a series of qualifying tests. He was awaiting word Wednesday about when the Senate will receive the appointment from Gov. Nikki Haley for a confirmation vote. “It’s just a formality,” Cleary said.

Pop was a candidate in 2011 when Cleary nominated Dave Joliff, a former Horry County Police officer, as magistrate in Murrells Inlet. The nomination was opposed by some inlet residents and led to accusations of misconduct by Joliff. He withdrew his name after Haley appointed him but before he was confirmed in the Senate.

Cleary didn’t make Pop’s name public until after he was cleared by the governor’s office because he said he didn’t want a repeat of the Joliff affair. But he also said that Pop’s nomination was a continuation of the 2011 process, in which alternatives to Joliff were interviewed by a committee.

“I wanted to pick someone from Murrells Inlet and Steve lives down in Pawleys,” Cleary said. Also, at the time Pop’s wife Ginger was an investigator with the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office. She now works for the 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office in Conway. The inlet appointment went to John Benso, an attorney.

“Like John Benso, he was familiar with the law,” Cleary said of Pop. “I like someone who’s familiar with those matters.”

Walters was a magistrate for 12 years and was in charge of central traffic court. That’s where Pop will start out, according to Chief Magistrate Isaac Pyatt, who assigns the other magistrates. Walters is now the director of safety and risk management for the school district.

Pop said he wanted to wait until after the Senate confirmation to discuss the magistrate’s job. He has been a wildlife officer since 1995. He was the officer of the year in Natural Resources’ Region IV in 2012 and a nominee for the state law enforcement officer of the year.

In 2011, Pop was named law enforcement officer of the year by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. The award cited his success in enforcing and staying current with the fishery laws. It also cited his good working relationship with his federal, state and local counterparts.

“Sgt. Pop reflects honest and fairness while he works by issuing four times more warnings than tickets,” the award noted.

Once confirmed, Pop will have to take courses and pass an exam before he can begin hearing cases. He will also observe trials with a mentor. Pyatt said the process takes about four months.

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