Crime & Courts

Surprise pretrial hearing for suspended S.C. sheriff

Federal court filings late Friday afternoon revealed that a sudden hearing has been scheduled this week in the bribery case involving suspended Lexington County Sheriff Jimmy Metts.

Such unanticipated hearings in the days or weeks before a trial can mean that a defendant has decided to plead guilty. Or they can also mean that evidence has come up that is causing one side or the other to request a delay in trial.

Metts’ trial on bribery and related charges is to start on Jan. 12 at the U.S. courthouse in Columbia, part of which is in Lexington County.

Prosecutors refused to say what will be discussed at the hearing Wednesday at 10 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Terry Wooten.

“It is the policy of the Department of Justice not to comment on pending cases,” U.S. Attorney for South Carolina Bill Nettles said late Friday.

Neither of Metts’ attorneys, Sherri Lydon of Columbia nor Scott Schools of Charleston, could be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

According to federal court filings, Lydon and Schools requested Wednesday’s hearing, which they called a “status hearing.”

Their one-paragraph motion said, “The hearing will permit the court to address issues that have arisen since the court last held a hearing on December 2, 2014.”

Wooten granted the motion and set the hearing for Wednesday.

At a Dec. 2 hearing, Wooten refused to dismiss any of the pending charges against Metts.

Metts’ lawyers were trying to get the judge to toss out two parts of the 10-count federal indictment prior to trial.

Metts is accused of accepting payments in exchange for helping four immigrants return to work in Midlands restaurants in 2011. If the case goes to trial, it is expected to last two or three weeks.

The investigation that led to Metts’ indictment in June began in 2009. After his indictment, Metts was suspended from the Lexington County sheriff’s post, which he held for 42 years.

Metts, 68, has pleaded not guilty and is free on $100,000 bond. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.

If he pleads guilty, he is likely to avoid prison altogether or get off with a light sentence.