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Frequently asked questions: Municipal Courts

Are municipalities required to have a municipal court?

A municipal council may establish, by ordinance, a municipal court to hear and determine all cases within its jurisdiction or contract with the county to prosecute municipal cases in magistrate court. Approximately 200 of 270 municipalities in South Carolina have chosen to create a municipal court. If a municipality does establish a  municipal court, council must appoint a municipal judge or contract with the county for the services of a magistrate to serve as municipal judge.

What is under the court's jurisdiction?

Municipal courts have jurisdiction over cases involving municipal ordinances and all offenses that occur within the municipality as long as the offenses are not subject to a fine of more than $500 and/or imprisonment of more than 30 days. Unlike magistrate's court, a municipal court is limited to criminal cases and has no civil jurisdiction.

What is the role of the municipal court clerk?

The city's ordinance establishing the municipal court (or contracting for court services) must provide for the appointment of a clerk of court to provide sufficient clerical and nonjudicial support to assist the municipal judge. In addition to keeping records and making reports, the clerk of court is responsible for turning over all fines, penalties and state assessments collected by the court to the municipal treasurer.

To maintain the separation of the judicial and law enforcement functions, the State Court Administration ruled that municipal employees working in the police department should not be assigned duties in the municipal court. The clerk of court cannot report to the police chief nor can the police chief supervise municipal court operations.

How long does a municipal judge serve?

Municipalities establish local appointment procedures. At a properly noticed and convened meeting, council must vote on the judge's appointment. The appointment motion should specify the term of the appointment (from two to four years) and set the compensation for the position.

Each municipal judge serves for a term set by the council and until his successor is appointed and qualified. Once appointed and during the term of office specified by council, a municipal judge may only be suspended or removed from office by order of the state Supreme Court according to its rules for incapacity, misconduct or neglect of duty. City council cannot suspend or remove a municipal judge during his appointed term.