The Supreme Court of South Carolina
Re: Clerk of Court Manual Revision
Pursuant to the provisions of S. C. CONST. Art. V, § 4,
The attached revised Clerk of Court Manual is approved for use by all County Clerks of Court and their staff in the South Carolina Judicial System. This manual supersedes all previously-issued Clerk of Court Manuals, and is effective immediately.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
|s/Jean H. Toal
Jean H. Toal, Chief Justice
May 21, 2014
Columbia, South Carolina
The judicial system can be divided into three basic components: the courts, the bar, and administrative support. Clerks of Court have contact with and impact on every element of the judicial system. Judges rely on the Clerks of Court to provide them with all the necessary documents and filings for all cases which they hear; lawyers must file all pleadings and motions with the clerk's office, and parties often rely on the clerk's staff for assistance in understanding the process involved in having a matter adjudicated. Clerks of Court are responsible for gathering and reporting caseload statistics to Court Administration. Clerks of Court provide the necessary staff support and assistance ensuring the judicial system is operating efficiently on a daily basis. Therefore, a brief overview of the judicial system of South Carolina is the starting point to the Clerk of Court Policies and Procedures Manual.
I. The Courts
The South Carolina Constitution creates the Judicial Department in Article V, Section 1. The section creates a unified judicial system to include a Supreme Court, a Court of Appeals, a Circuit Court and such other courts of uniform jurisdiction as may be provided by general law. The Family Court, Masters-In-Equity, Summary Courts (magistrate and municipal courts), and Probate Courts are all created by statute, and are part of the unified judicial system.
The Supreme Court
General: The Supreme Court is the highest court in South Carolina. The Court is composed of a Chief Justice and four Associate Justices who are elected to ten year terms by the General Assembly. The terms of the justices are staggered and a justice may be reelected to any number of terms.
Appellate and Original Jurisdiction: The Supreme Court has both appellate and original jurisdiction. In its appellate capacity, it has exclusive jurisdiction to hear appeals from the circuit court which includes a sentence of death; a circuit court order setting a public utility rate; a judgment involving a constitutional challenge to a state statute or local ordinance; a judgment of the circuit court involving public bonded indebtedness; a judgment of the circuit court pertaining to an election; an order limiting the investigation by a State Grand Jury; and an order of the family court relating to an abortion by a minor, see Rule 203(d)(1), SCACR. Additionally, on its own motion or a motion of a party or the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court may certify an appeal pending before the Court of Appeals for decision by the Supreme Court. In deciding appeals, the Supreme Court considers the transcript of the proceedings before the lower court, other relevant documents and exhibits, briefs filed by the parties and oral arguments. For those appeals which are decided by the Court of Appeals, an aggrieved party may seek a review of the decision of the Court of Appeals by filing a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court. If the petition is granted, the Supreme Court may affirm, reverse or modify the decision of the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court also reviews judgments of the circuit and family court relating to post-conviction relief actions by writ of certiorari. In its original jurisdiction, the Supreme Court may allow actions to be commenced in the Supreme Court and may issue mandamus, certiorari and other extraordinary writs. Normally, this only occurs when the case involves significant public interest or other unusual circumstances. Finally, the Supreme Court can agree to answer questions of law certified to it by the highest court of another state or by a federal court.
The Court of Appeals
General: The Court of Appeals was created to hear most types of appeals from the circuit court and the family court. Exceptions are when the appeal falls within any of the seven classes of exclusive jurisdiction listed under the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals is the judicial system's newest court, having commenced operation on September 1, 1983. It consists of a Chief Judge and eight associate judges who are elected to staggered terms of six years each. The Court sits either as three panels of three judges each or as a whole, and it may hear oral arguments and motions in any county of the state.
The Circuit Court is the state's court of general jurisdiction. It is divided into two types of court: the Court of Common Pleas which deals with all civil matters, and the Court of General Session, which is the criminal court. The Circuit Court also has limited appellate jurisdiction over cases from probate court, magistrate court and municipal court. Circuit court judges are elected by the General Assembly to six year terms. South Carolina is divided into sixteen judicial circuits, each circuit has at least two counties. There are 49 circuit court judges, 33 judges are elected from the 16 circuits, and 16 are elected to serve at-large. Every circuit has at least one resident circuit judge who maintains an office in the judge's home county within the circuit. The Clerks of Court for each county provide the administrative support for the Circuit Court. Circuit judges rotate among the 16 circuits with court terms and assignments determined by the Chief Justice upon recommendations by Court Administration. Judicial rotation is a requirement of the state constitution.
The Family Court has exclusive jurisdiction over all matters involving domestic or family relationships. The Family Court hears all cases concerning marriage, divorce, legal separation, custody, visitation rights, termination of parental rights, adoption, support, alimony, division of marital property and change of name. The Family Court also generally has exclusive jurisdiction over dependent or neglected children under eighteen years of age, and over minors under the age of seventeen alleged to be delinquent and to have violated any state law or municipal ordinance. However, most traffic and fish and game law violations committed by juveniles are triable in the summary courts. Juveniles charged with serious crimes may be tried as adults and transferred to Circuit Court. Family Court judges are elected for six year terms by the General Assembly. There are 58 judges in Family Court, selected by circuit seat. Generally, Family Court judges rotate from county to county within their home circuit, however, the Chief Justice may assign them to other circuits based on caseload needs. Clerks of Court provide administrative support for Family Court.
Masters-In-Equity are appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the General Assembly for a term of six years. There are currently 21 Masters-In-Equity, some serve part-time and others are full-time judges. Masters-In-Equity have jurisdiction in matters referred to them by the Circuit Courts. They have the power and authority of the Circuit Court sitting without a jury to rule on all motions, require the production on evidence, rule upon the admissibility of evidence, call witnesses and examine them under oath for all cases which have been referred to them by order of the Circuit Court.
Magistrate Court - There are over 300 magistrates in South Carolina. Each magistrate is appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate to a four-year term. In addition, magistrates must pass a certification examination within one year of their appointment. Magistrates generally have criminal trial jurisdiction over all offenses that are subject to the penalty of a fine not exceeding $500 or imprisonment not exceeding 30 days. Magistrates set bail, conduct preliminary hearings, and issue arrest and search warrants. Magistrates also have jurisdiction over civil matters when the amount in controversy does not exceed $7,500.
Municipal Court - A municipality's governing body may establish by ordinance a municipal court to handle cases arising under its ordinances, and all offenses which are subject to a fine not exceeding $500 or imprisonment not exceeding 30 days or both which occur within the municipality. The powers and duties of municipal judges are the same as those of a magistrate with regard to criminal matters. Municipal courts have no jurisdiction in civil matters.
Every county has a Probate Judge who is popularly elected to a four year term. The Probate Court has jurisdiction over marriage licenses, estates of deceased persons, guardianships of incompetents, conservatorships of estates of minors and incompetents, minor settlements under $10,000, and involuntary commitments of mentally ill or chemically dependent persons. Probate Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over trusts, and concurrent jurisdiction with Circuit Courts over powers of attorney.
There are more than 15,000 lawyers licensed to practice law in South Carolina. A brief discussion of the roles these lawyers play in the judicial system follows.
The South Carolina Constitution designates the Attorney General as the State's chief prosecutor in Article V, Section 20. The Office of the Attorney General represents the State in civil litigation, issues opinions regarding interpretation of State law, and represents the State on most criminal and civil appeals.
There are sixteen popularly elected solicitors who prosecute criminal matters in their respective circuits. The circuit solicitors employ a staff of assistant solicitors and others to assist in this work. A solicitor may, at the direction of the Attorney General, represent the State in civil matters.
SC Commission on Indigent Defense
Individuals who are charged with the commission of a crime triable in General Session Court and who cannot afford to retain private counsel may request that an attorney be appointed by the court to defend them. Proof of indigency is required. The appointment of counsel for indigent defendants is governed by Rules 602 and 608 of the South Carolina Appellate Court Rules.
The Commission on Indigent Defense, a state agency, establishes and monitors programs and services for the delivery of legal representation to indigent defendants charged with criminal offenses in the courts of the state. The agency also oversees the payment to court appointed attorneys for certain legal services performed on behalf of indigent clients in the Family Courts of the state.
The Division of Appellate Defense within the agency handles appeals on behalf of indigent clients and consists of a staff of eight attorneys.
The Commission on Indigent Defense is comprised of thirteen (13 members, nine (9) of which are appointed by the Governor; one (1) from each of the four Judicial Regions and five (5) representatives from the S.C. Bar; two (2) retired judges, including a retired circuit judge and either a retired family court judge or a retired appellate judge, appointed by the Chief Justice of the S.C. Supreme Court; and a representative of the House Judiciary Committee and a representative of the Senate Judiciary Committee, appointed by their respective Committee Chairman. The Chairman of the Commission on Indigent Defense is elected by the Commission from its membership for a 2-year term.
The Private Bar
Attorneys who are licensed to practice law and do not work for the State as a prosecutor or public defender are considered members of the private bar. These attorneys represent plaintiffs or defendants in civil matters, or are retained, appointed or provide pro bono (free) legal services to criminal defendants. Private attorneys may also provide pro bono services to indigent parties in civil matters. Many attorneys confine their practice to a few areas of the law, for example, medical malpractice and personal injury law. Other lawyers choose to practice in all courts.
III. Administration of the Courts
Operations of each court discussed above are supported by professional and administrative staff employed by each county and by the State. In general, summary courts (magistrates and municipal judges) and probate courts employ their own staff to handle filings, collect fees and to manage their dockets. Likewise, the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals each have a Clerk of Court and staff to assist in court management. Circuit Court and Family Court are supported by the county Clerks of Court and Court Administration.
Clerks of Court
Each county has a popularly elected Clerk of Court who serves a four year term. The Clerk of Court serves both the Circuit Court and the Family Court. The Clerks of Court are charged with docket management, receipt of fees, fines and costs, maintenance of all court records, and submission of reports to a variety of state and federal agencies. In Circuit Court, the Clerk of Court is responsible for both criminal and civil matters, and some of these duties include receipt of criminal warrants and transmission to the solicitor, receipt of bail, compilation of trial lists, jury management and staffing the courtroom while the court is in session. Among the duties a Clerk of Court is responsible for in Family Court are the collection and disbursement of court-ordered child support payments, issuance of Rules to Show Cause in cases where court orders have not been followed, and filing of Orders of Protection and transmittal of these orders to the appropriate local law enforcement agencies. The Clerk of Court also serves as the Register of Deeds, formerly called Register of Mesne Conveyances, in some counties. The Register of Deeds is responsible for recording all property transactions and records as required by state law. In some counties, the Register of Deeds is an elected or appointed position, and is a separate office from the Clerk of Court. (See Chapter 8 for more detail.)
The State Constitution provides that the Chief Justice shall appoint an Administrator of the Courts and assistants necessary to aid in the administration of the courts of the State. The State Court Administrator is the Director of Court Administration. Court Administration is the administrative arm of the Chief Justice who is the administrative head of the state judicial system. Court Administration performs a wide variety of duties, including recommending to the Chief Justice the scheduling of terms of Circuit Court and Family Court and the assignment of judges to preside over these terms, and the court reporters who transcribe the proceedings; assisting in the administration of Circuit Courts, Family Courts, Probate Courts and Summary Courts; collecting and analyzing caseload information and statistics for each court; coordinating legal education seminars for new judges, Clerks of Court and law clerks; and reporting to the Chief Justice and the General Assembly the status of dockets and caseloads. In addition, Court Administration assists in the development and administration of special pilot projects.