On Friday, October 11th, the Commissioners and all staff of the Public Service Commission, along with employees of the Office of Regulatory Staff, attended an ethics training seminar that outlined potential issues Commissioners could face in their roles as judicial figures.
The day-long training session began with a presentation from Judge Thomas Cooper, Jr., who spoke on judicial conduct and judicial temperament. During his presentation, Judge Cooper discussed the current procedures for reviewing complaints made against judges—and the success of these protocols—and the necessity of being faithful to the law and to the oaths taken as representatives of the law. Judge Cooper also spoke about the importance of a responsible management of courtroom atmosphere, asking of attendees, “Is it one of openness, or is it one of autocracy? Is it one of arrogance?” Using illustrative examples from popular culture—A Few Good Men, A Man for All Seasons, Where the Crawdads Sing—Judge Cooper demonstrated the assertion of authority and consistent professionalism that judges should aspire to, noting that Commissioners should be willing to “nudge the lawyers back in line—nudge them back in line gently.”
Next, Diana Mullis, MD spoke about the need for self-care and stress management and presented the results of studies pertaining to stress in the workplace. Dr. Mullins also described the causes and effects of burnout and compassion fatigue, and how these disruptive statuses can arise from exposure to trauma, both direct and vicarious. Through her presentation, Commissioners learned to develop self-resilience through adaptive behavior, including self-awareness, self-care, and strong protective factors—a set of behaviors that include proper training, past experience, a sense of humor, and an awareness of their control over situations.
The afternoon training began with a presentation from Meghan Walker, the Executive Director of the State Ethics Commission. Founded in the 1970s as part of a nationwide trend, the Ethics Commission reformed following Operation Lost Trust in the 1990s. The Ethics Commission requires that Commissioners file annual statements of economic interest, which are available for public review online. Ms. Walker presented the judicial canons that bind Commissioners, including the avoidance of impropriety and the appearance of impropriety and the performance of duties impartially and diligently. As keepers of public trust, Commissioners are to remain accountable and transparent in their financial and social reporting. “What you can’t yell out loud,” she noted, underlining that the scrutiny of PSC employees is comprehensive, “you can’t whisper.”
Desa Ballard, Esquire, then presented a case study of improper behavior, giving examples of prior violations of the code of judicial conduct and walking attendees step-by-step through a specific case from recent news. The case study included materials from the Supreme Court, the documents filed by the judge in the matter, and a comprehensive timeline of what occurred and at what time improper conduct took place.
Finally, Bob Bockman, former Commissioner and professor at UofSC, presented on administrative law via a mock interview with PSC employee Rob Bockman. Prompted by the younger Bockman, Professor Bockman walked attendees through the formation of the Administrative Procedures Act and the impact it has on the regulation of utilities in South Carolina.
The Commission would like to thank all presenters who spoke and provided this vital training to ensure that Commissioners and all employees of the PSC are consistently improving their practice and maintaining a dependable, affordable, and fair utility economy for South Carolina’s utility ratepayers.
For more information, please contact the Public Service Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Rob Bockman, Director of Public Information, at 803.896.5142. You can also follow the SC Utility Consumer program on Twitter and Facebook for up-to-the-minute updates and to have your questions addressed by Commission staff.