MARLBORO COUNTY, S.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) — Without warning or any public statement, one week after FOX 46 confirmed a South Carolina Supreme Court investigation into Marlboro County’s probate office, the judge running that department wants to end his office’s involvement in the estate at the center of the state’s investigation.
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel, known as ODS, submitted at least one subpoena to the Bennettsville Police Department seeking records related to Mark Heath’s deputy probate judge, Tammy Bullock. That subpoena came within a day of our ‘Final Disrespects’ investigation into criminal allegations against Bullock.
ODC is the investigative unit of the SC Supreme Court and conducts investigations into allegations of misconduct involving the state’s judges and attorneys.
Marlboro County Probate Judge Mark Heath asked to be removed from presiding over the Hollis Slade estate more than eight months after the family opened the estate and two weeks after our ‘Final Disrespects’ investigation aired Oct. 5.
FOX 46’s investigation included evidence that Heath knew of the allegations against Bullock nearly a week before the Slade estate was filed and nearly two months before Heath swore Bullock into office as his deputy probate judge.
Heath sent a letter to Jordan Kemmerlin, a woman identified in the letter as the “Probate Court Representative” of the SC Court Administration. The letter is dated Oct. 18, 2021.
“By copy of this letter, I am advising all interested parties that I have to ask [sic] to recuse myself from the above named [sic] estate. They will be further advised by your office who will be assigned this case,” a letter signed by Heath stated.
The “above-named” estate is the Estate of Hollis Slade, according to the letter.
On Oct. 15 – three days before Heath decided to recuse himself – Charles Ipock, the Slade estate attorney, filed a motion for a change of venue citing “potential conflicts of interests” inside the Marlboro County Probate Judge’s Office, according to a filing in the Slade estate. The filing asked to move the Slade estate into the Darlington County Probate Court where Marvin Lawson presides.
Lawson did not return a call seeking comment.
Heath did not rule on the motion requesting the case be moved, instead, three days later Heath asked the SC Supreme Court to allow him to remove himself from the case.
FOX 46 asked Heath for an interview concerning his decision to recuse himself. “No comment,” Heath told FOX 46 Chief Investigator Jody Barr through a plexiglass window at his courthouse office on Tuesday.
Records filed in Hollis Slade’s estate folder at the Marlboro County Probate Court show Heath’s letter was sent to Columbia by first-class mail on Oct. 18. A form titled “Proof of Delivery” showing when Heath sent the letter to Columbia is signed by Tammy Bullock, Heath’s deputy probate judge.
Bullock is the deputy probate judge Slade’s family accused of impersonating a public official the day after Slade’s death in January. Security cameras outside Slade’s home captured a recording of Bullock telling others gathered at the home to tell Slade’s family she was “a probate judge” when the family arrived at Slade’s home later that night.
Slade’s oldest sibling, Beth Boling, told FOX 46 the first thing Bullock said to her after the women greeted one another was that she was the Marlboro County Probate Judge.
”It’s absolutely one of the first things that she tells me at the end of the driveway before we even start walking down the driveway. She introduces herself and says I’m the probate judge,” Boling told Barr during an August 2021 interview at her home in Indiana.
“So in that clip, she says ‘If we need to, we’ll tell her that.’ but there was no; I hadn’t produced anything that I know of that tells them there’s a need to tell me that yet, so she’s quick to say it…I was thinking that okay, that’s one thing answered of the 1,000 questions I have right now is that the probate judge is a friend of my brother’s and would do right by my brother.”
The Slade cameras also captured conversations between Bullock and the group confirming the deputy probate judge and others rummaged through Slade’s home, their search for Slade’s will inside the home, and discussion about withholding financial information they collected in the home from Slade’s family.
The recordings also showed a man named Will Adams making calls to Darlington County Coroner Todd Hardee to get possession of Slade’s body. Hardee confirmed to Barr in a phone call that Adams claimed Slade did not have any surviving family to claim the man’s body.
Slade’s wife of 40 years, Joyce, was inside the home during the time Bullock and others were inside rummaging through it.
Audio recorded in one video clip showed Adams, Charlotte Green and Matthew Tomlinson discussing the fact that Slade did not have a will at the time of his death. Adams tells the group he might have a way of unlocking Slade’s cell phone, “My Verizon guy, he’s probably about to call me to see if we can get into his phone,” Adams told Green and Tomlinson in the recording.
Heath’s known about the Bullock criminal allegations since at least Jan. 29 when Slade’s neighbor Bobby Norris spoke with Heath by phone to inform him of the allegations against Bullock. Norris produced a call log and a Jan. 29 text message between himself and Judge Heath confirming the call.
“Did Bobby Norris not call you in January and have a discussion with you on Jan. 29,” Barr asked Heath during a Sept. 1 interview outside his courthouse office, “No comment,” Heath replied.
FOX 46’s questions were related to perceived conflicts of interest given the allegations against Bullock concerning the Slade estate. As deputy probate judge, Bullock has the authority to sign orders and make judicial decisions in Heath’s absence. But, Bullock wasn’t issued an oath of office until March 15th, nearly two months after Slade’s estate was opened.
Slade’s estate file shows Bullock handled the Feb. 5, 2021 payment Boling paid to open her brother’s estate in the Marlboro County Probate Court. The court receipt shows the user as “Tammy.”
An order filed Feb. 17 appointing Beth Boling as the personal representative of her brother’s estate appeared to be stamped with Judge Mark Heath’s name and initialed with Tammy Bullock’s “TB” on the signature line. Bullock was not sworn in as the county’s deputy probate judge until March 15, 2021, and did not hold an oath of office at the time the order was signed.
FOX 46 asked the SC Supreme Court’s Judicial Branch spokeswoman, Ginny Jones, for a copy of Heath’s recusal letter and what the next steps in the case would be. Jones had not responded to messages sent to her seeking that information before this article was posted.
When contacted by phone Tuesday morning, Jordan Kemmerlin would not discuss the case or answer questions related to Heath’s recusal letter addressed to her. The SC Supreme Court’s clerk’s office told FOX 46 the recusal would not be filed with the court’s clerk’s office.
None of the offices involved in the Heath recusal and a potential reassignment responded to requests for information and clarification as of the time this article was posted.