The council of each municipality may establish, by ordinance, a municipal court to hear and determine all cases within its jurisdiction. Such courts are part of the unified judicial system. It should be noted, however, that a municipality may, upon prior agreement with county governing body, prosecute its cases in magistrate court, in lieu of establishing its own municipal court. In addition, the council may establish, by ordinance, a municipal court, and contract with the county governing authority for the services of a magistrate to serve as its municipal judge. The Chief Justice, pursuant to his/her powers as administrative head of the unified judicial system, would, in turn, delegate authority to the Chief Summary Court Judge of the county to assign a specific magistrate as municipal judge.
Municipal courts have jurisdiction over cases arising under ordinances of the municipality, and over all offenses which are subject to a fine not exceeding $500.00 or imprisonment not exceeding 30 days, or both, and which occur within the municipality. In addition, S.C. Code Ann. § 22-3-545 provides that municipal courts may hear cases transferred from general sessions, the penalty for which does not exceed one year imprisonment or a fine of $5,000, or both, upon petition by the solicitor and agreement by the defendant. The powers and duties of a municipal judge are the same as those of a magistrate, with regard to criminal matters; however, municipal courts have no civil jurisdiction. The term of a municipal judge is set by the council of the municipality, but cannot exceed four years. Approximately 200 municipalities in South Carolina have chosen to create municipal courts.
All municipal judges are required to complete a training program or pass certification or recertification examinations, or both, within one year of taking office. See S.C. Code Ann. § 14-25-15 and Rule 509, SCACR. The examination will be offered three times each year. Members of the South Carolina Bar are exempt from the examination; however, they are required to attend the orientation program.
Each municipal judge must pass a recertification examination within eight years after passing the initial certification examination and at least once every eight years thereafter.