Beaufort County probate judge to retire, won’t seek re-election. What we know

·3 min read

Beaufort County Probate Judge Kenneth Fulp will not seek re-election and plans to retire when his term expires this year, according to a statement Friday.

Fulp has served as the county’s probate judge since 2012, when then-Gov. Nikki Haley appointed him to fill the unexpired term of his predecessor, Frank M. Simon, who resigned amid sexual harassment accusations.

Fulp subsequently won re-election in 2014 and 2018. As head of the county’s probate court, Fulp made history in 2014 when he processed the county’s first same-sex marriage license application.

He also oversaw all probate matters, including estate records, trusts, conservatorships and approval of certain wrongful death settlements.

“It has been the highest honor of my professional life to have served the citizens of Beaufort County as their Probate Judge and to work with dedicated colleagues both on the bench and in the bar,” Fulp said in the statement.

Fulp’s retirement means that Beaufort County voters must elect a new probate judge in November. Lowcountry probate courts are facing increased attention as investigators pore over probate records to shed light on the ongoing financial scandal surrounding suspended Hampton attorney Alex Murdaugh.

As part of its investigation into Murdaugh’s misconduct as a lawyer, the disciplinary arm of the S.C. Supreme Court requested records from at least three probate courts, including Fulp’s office, related to cases Murdaugh worked on.

There is no implication that probate courts have done anything wrong.

Fulp, reached by phone Friday, said his retirement had “absolutely no relation” to the probes into Murdaugh’s wrongdoing.

He said he had been considering retirement for a while so he could spend time with his wife and six grandchildren, travel and play “a little more golf.”

“I just wanted to make this decision now and go ahead and make it clear that I’m not going to be a candidate so the field would be clear,” he said.

In his statement, Fulp thanked his “dedicated and caring” colleagues in the probate court.

“They daily render caring and professional service to scores of people going through some of life’s most difficult times, and I will always cherish their commitment to our work,” the statement said.

Beaufort County Probate Judge Kenneth Fulp plans to retire at the end of his term in December 2022, Beaufort County announced Friday.
Beaufort County Probate Judge Kenneth Fulp plans to retire at the end of his term in December 2022, Beaufort County announced Friday.

A 1977 graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, Fulp worked in private practice for eight years before moving to Washington D.C., according to his judge biography.

Fulp worked in D.C. for four years and held several high-ranking positions including as Counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism and then as Congressional Relations Counsel for the U.S. Marshals Service.

He later worked for the U.S. Department of Justice. In 1988, the director of the U.S. Marshals service awarded Fulp the Distinguished Service Award, according to the county’s statement.

Fulp moved to Beaufort in 1990 and served as Beaufort County Associate Probate Judge from 1999 until 2012.

In 2012, three female employees of the Beaufort County Probate Court filed sexual-harassment complaints against then-Probate Judge Frank M. Simon. A month later, Simon unexpectedly announced he was retiring.

All three complaints referred to incidents in May 2012 and alleged in sworn statements that Simon, who served for nearly 18 years, made lewd or offensive comments. Two of the women later received confidential settlements after filing sexual harassment lawsuits against Simon.

Simon left his judge post July 1, 2012, and Fulp was appointed by Gov. Haley to serve until Simon’s term ended in December 2014.

“I can say I won’t tolerate harassment of any kind,” Fulp said at the time.

Voters re-elected Fulp in 2014 and 2018.

From 2017-18, Fulp served as president of the South Carolina Association of Probate Judges.

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