Posted on Jul 12, 2017

The Honorable Lawrence McElynn, chief judge of the Summary Court in South Carolina in Beaufort County, gave the Bluffton Rotary Club a lesson in structure of workings of the Magistrate Court system in Beaufort County. Magistrates are appointed by the Governor of SC for a 4 year term, after being nominated by Senator Tom Davis. There is no requirement to be part of the legal system before becoming a judge, but one has to pass extensive training and testing before an appointment can be approved. The Beaufort County Magistrate’s Court handles about 30,000 cases a year, both civil and criminal.

There are approximately 319 magistrates in South Carolina, each serving the county for which he or she is appointed. They are appointed by the Governor upon the advice and consent of the Senate for four year terms and until their successors are appointed and qualified (Art. V, § 26, S.C. Const., and S.C. Code Ann. § 22-1-10). Anyone seeking an initial appointment as magistrate must pass an eligibility examination before they can be recommended to the Governor by the senatorial delegation. S.C. Code Ann. § 22-2.5. Magistrates must also attend an orientation program, pass a certification examination within one year of their appointment, and attend a specified number of trials prior to conducting a trial.

Magistrates have criminal trial jurisdiction over all offenses which are subject to the penalty of a fine not exceeding $500.00 or imprisonment exceeding 30 days, or both (S.C. Code Ann. § 22-3-550). In addition, S.C. Code Ann. § 22-3-545 provides that magistrates 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. Magistrates have civil jurisdiction when the amount of controversy does not exceed $7,500. (S.C. Code Ann. § 22-3-10) In addition, magistrates are responsible for setting bail, conducting preliminary hearings, and issuing arrest and search warrants. Unlike circuit courts and probate courts, magistrate courts are not courts of record. Proceedings in magistrate courts are summary (S.C. Code Ann. § 22-3-730).

Before his appointment as judge, McElynn served for 30 years as a Special Agent with the US DEA and has received numerous awards for his community service work in the Low Country, including recognition as “Community Hero” by the Governor of SC, the prestigious Palmetto Serves Award from the SC Department of Education and The order of the Silver Crescent , South Carolina’s highest civilian award for significant contributions to and leadership within a community.