Columbus County magistrate suspended, accused of ethical violations

By Ben Rappaport

Robert A. Worley was suspended from his duties as a Columbus County magistrate on Wednesday after being accused of using private court records for personal use and criticizing the Whiteville Police Department in Facebook posts.

Six members of the Whiteville Police Department, including Chief Douglas Ipock, said in affidavits that Worley used records from the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts to investigate a driver involved in an April 16 car crash with his wife. 

Columbus County Chief District Court Judge Scott Ussery suspended Worley, writing in a court order that the allegation, if true, “violates ethical and professional standards, and erodes public trust in the judiciary.”

The allegations could result in a criminal charge and could be grounds for Worley’s removal from office.

According to a police incident report, the crash occurred at the intersection of North Lee Street and West Lewis Street in Whiteville. The crash caused an estimated $10,000 in damage to Stephanie Worley’s vehicle and $8,000 in damage to the other vehicle, driven by 25-year-old Brianna Hamilton. Hamilton was trying to cross the intersection and did not see Worley, which caused Worley to T-bone Hamilton’s vehicle, according to the incident report.

On April 17 and April 23, Robert Worley met with Whiteville police to discuss the crash. He wanted to know why the other driver in the collision with his wife had not yet been charged. After an explanation from an officer that charging the driver was a discretionary matter, Worley allegedly became frustrated and took to Facebook to post disparaging remarks about several officers. 

“Such public expressions of bias and disdain towards law enforcement entities raise serious questions about Magistrate Worley’s ability to preside over cases involving the Whiteville Police Department with impartiality and fairness,” Ipock said in an affidavit.

Worley told police he used private court records about Hamilton to learn that her license was revoked. Worley later told police his wife broke her wrist and totaled her car in the crash. 

Worley, who was a Whiteville Police Officer for 13 years, then took to Facebook and said the department had become unprofessional. 

“I’ve held my tongue and not called people out for not doing their jobs,” Worley posted on Facebook four days after the crash, according to court documents. “BUT I’VE ABOUT HAD IT!!!!!! If something doesn’t get done within the next few days after I have a couple of conversations I will make sure everyone knows how piss-poor people really are and shouldn’t have their jobs.”

Some people who commented on Worley’s posts supported his frustration. 

“I’d be furious too!” one commenter wrote. “Praying Stephanie feels better soon and you get justice!” Another person wrote, “Please make sure the officer at the scene, loses his job!!! Ridiculous!!”

Affidavits from police said the posts were “unprofessional and unbecoming” of Worley given his position as a Columbus County magistrate. Magistrates are responsible for determining whether to issue search and arrest warrants, deciding whether individuals should be detained, conducting small claims court and more, according to the UNC School of Government.

Worley’s frustrations with the department started last October when he was the victim of a hit-and-run at Walmart in Whiteville. According to police reports, Worley attempted to stop an alleged thief from driving away with stolen goods, standing in front of the vehicle and saying “Well, you’re just gonna have to hit me.” The driver then accelerated and knocked Worley over. 

The officer on the case deemed that it was not necessary to pursue assault charges against the driver because there were no major injuries, and Worley refused medical attention at the time of the incident, the police report shows. The suspect was later convicted of misdemeanor larceny. 

The order from Ussery issued Wednesday claims Worley is suspended because he violated the North Carolina Rules of Conduct for Magistrates and the Canons for Judges. The rules Ussery said Worley violated state magistrates should “uphold the integrity of the Office of Magistrate and act accordingly,” avoid impropriety and perform the duties of the office impartially.

Worley is suspended as a magistrate indefinitely, pending a decision by the Superior Court, which must take place within the next 30 days.